Friday, January 29, 2010

A Different Approach

If you saw my comment in Supriya's post this week, you already know that, like her, I haven't sent out any query letters. It's not that I haven't faced my fair share of torment, criticism and rejection though. I enter contests.

Considering contests are likely a topic for another week, I won't go into the gory details. I will mention I once read the advice, writers should place in a few contests before they send out query letters to publishers and agents, which is why I opted for entering writing competitions first. I guess I got lucky when I finally co-won a contest last year. It landed me an agent, although I'm still trying to figure out what that bought me. Again, another topic...

Okay, now back to this week's post. Well kinda.

Besides not having a novel quite ready to submit to a publisher, there's another reason I haven't sent out query letters. The publishing industry is changing. Funny, but Greg reminded us Wicked Writers of this fact earlier this week when he emailed a link to The New York Times article With Kindle, the Best Sellers Don’t Need to Sell. Heck, as a Kindle owner, I take full advantage of the free stuff to figure out what books to purchase. So I expect to give away my first novel to sell more novels in the series. Oh yeah, I am over @TheCourierNovel, along with copies on Textnovel, Authonomy, Booksie and my website. I also expect to give away the second novel, initially. So this article is right on in my opinion.

Also call me a glutton for punishment, because no matter how many times I've been warned not to do it, I still haven't ruled out self publishing. Sure, I'd rather go with a big publisher. Who wouldn't? There's just something about going through the experience that I think would be valuable.

Oops. Am I rambling and getting too far off topic again?

I know I'll be writing a query letter within the next couple months, but I'm really in no hurry, expecting it to be like resume writing. I used to edit resumes for an IT consulting company once upon a time. And since I can’t provide much more value to this week’s topic, I’ll cut it short and take off to enjoy my Friday.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Why Didn't You Say So?

Let’s face it.  If an agent or publisher is looking for a book like what you’ve written, it doesn’t matter how good or bad your query letter is—except that he’s going to read it first.  Your query letter is like the first five minutes of a blind date: if it goes badly, it goes quickly.

When I sent out the stone tablets with my first novel, all I knew was that people kept returning it.  My concept of a submission was “If you write it, they will buy.”  I’d never even heard of a synopsis or sample chapter.

So much to learn.

It never gets easier, but you get better.

What does the agent like?  How does he want it?  Do your homework and check the website or literary market publications before you waste everyone’s time querying an agent about your western erotica—especially if he only represents cookbooks.

I still struggle with a synopsis and I cringe at outlines, but I now have three polished one-page templates for my query letter.  They present the same information in different order to match the preferences on those aforementioned websites.

One paragraph, the hook, gives the place, problem, and protagonist in three sentences of active verbs and concrete nouns.  Another paragraph gives my credentials for writing the book in question and tells why I chose that agent (Writers Market,, recommendation, whatever).  Now that I have a few stories in print, those credits and the possible audience make up the third paragraph.

Thank you for your attention, signature, enclosures (SASE, synopsis, samples).

Keep it short and clear.  Most agents have a 98 or 99% rejection rate, and they’ll decide by reading your one-page query.  Maybe your first sentence if it’s bad enough.  They’re busy.

I wish I knew back then how long it takes those busy agents and editors to reply.  Online submissions don’t guarantee a faster response than snail mail, and the average hovers around three months.  My personal record is a form rejection postcard that arrived seventeen months after I sent my short story.

If you watch the calendar, your hair will turn white and you will turn weird, so start writing something else right away.

That slow turnaround leads to another lesson somebody eventually gave me.

To find a prom date, you ask one person at a time. To sell a book, you send out queries in clusters like grapes, eight or ten every few weeks.  Although they don’t always say so, some agents only reply if they’re interested.  I figure that out after about six months.

Rejection makes you a better writer.  Rejection makes you strong.  Uh-huh.  I’m on my way to the Nobel Prize and being hard as a diamond.

Rejection hurts, but beyond a certain point it’s subjective.  Polish your writing until you can shave in its reflected glow, but once it’s perfect, someone still has to want to buy it.  You have no control over some factors.  Chances are, nobody will tell you about them, either—“Sorry, not for us” take less time to scribble than why it isn’t for them.  Agents and editors almost never give feedback because they don’t have time.  If you actually get comments or advice instead of a form letter, FOLLOW IT.

Some agents hate a prologue.  Some hate cats.  Some editors don’t want stories written in present tense.  It doesn’t mean your story is bad, but you need to remember these things next time and send your story elsewhere.

Maybe your book kicks serious tush but the agent already has two clients writing similar stuff.  What if the publisher already has a book on the same topic coming out in three months, or the editor who would love it just got downsized?

OK.  Now you know.  Sweep up the shards of your shattered life and send your baby out again. As I post this, I have nine rejections for different writing projects this month—and twenty-six queries still outstanding.

Quality may be Job One, but knowing the market is Job One A.  I hate to do research to write a story, but I HAVE to do research to sell it.

I’m still learning to do that.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

And The Joke’s On…

What do you get when you have five bloggers write on the topic of submitting their first agent query letters?

If you’ve been following the preceding posts, you’ll know that’s the topic of this week’s Wicked Writer posts, but I’ll tell you the punchline in just a moment. First, I’d like to share my newbie experience as a blogger with you and what led me to this point in time. (Stick with me. It’s part of the punchline.)

I’d been “working exclusively on my craft,” as I’d been telling everyone all these years, trying to become the best writer I could before I could ever even think of delving into the world of agent searches, querying, launching a web site, or anything remotely promotional.

Then nearly six weeks ago, some time before Christmas break, C.J., whom I’d known was in the process of forming a group blog and had so far enlisted three other writers to blog with her, called to tell me it’s two weeks before launch and she had one writer drop out. I was ready to give her my “can’t help you, I don’t know anyone looking to blog” spiel when I caught her next words: “…and so I have a proposition for you.” She followed up with how much she admired that I’d been working so hard to perfect my craft but that it’s finally time to “sh** or get off the pot.” (She’s an elegant one with words, our C.J.)

I said I would think about it, even though I was secretly thinking a great big NO. Why would I put myself out there like that? I felt sure that I was nowhere near ready to show my work to an agent, my writing’s probably not up to par yet, I have a lot of loose ends to tie up in terms of revising and polishing my first novel, and basically, I’m not really a blogging kind of gal.

What a month can do.

As anyone who knows C.J. knows first hand, she can wear you down—but in a good way. (I think she calls it “selling.” Um, sure, honey.) But she believed in me and my work and she wouldn’t let it go. I agreed to her crazy idea after I found out my fellow Guppy, Steve Liskow, was the first guy to respond to C.J.’s open shout-out for a male mystery writer on our news group. I’d always thought him well spoken and professional on all his posts. Maybe this was a good idea after all. Other people certainly seemed to think so.

But I still had my doubts. I was scared out of my mind, and spent the rest of my holiday break trying to write that first, scary post. (Do you see a scary theme here?) Then C.J. scared me some more: “if I’m promoting you to everyone I know, I expect you to get out there and promote yourself as well.” So she “encouraged” me (I think there was a pistol involved) to make the leap in telling my friends and family about our new venture and my first post, which revealed what I considered my most private secret: I want to be a published novelist!

The rest is history. There’s a terrific poem about a writer who had a lot of words and how all those words were strangling him. (I would tell you the name of the poet but, hey, I could be twisting his words.) That sentiment perfectly described me as a writer until about a month ago. How could I possibly tell people I was writing a book when I couldn’t get the words right?

But here I am, my fourth post in, and I’m raring to go. The creative juices are flowing, my writing is more focused, I have a specific plan toward publication this year, and for once, I feel absolutely excited about getting there.

Which brings me back to the punchline: I’ve never sent out a query letter.

Not yet. But I will soon. And the truth is, if not for C.J. and her holiday proposition, the right time may never have arrived, and 2010 would not have been the year I send out my first query letter.

Any other writers nervous about taking that first big step?

Monday, January 25, 2010

What the hell is a query letter?

C.J. has asked us for our experiences in trying to get our work published, namely by asking what we wish we knew before we sent the first query letter.

Well, my answer is the title of this piece.

Yes, I had finished the 22 chapters of my novel Land of the Blind and had e-mailed the entire thing, along with the synopsis, and some samples to Leucrota Press and DAW Books.

Both companies said to allow 6-8 weeks before hearing anything. Finally, DAW sent a reply saying I needed a query letter first. Two months to be told I forgot the query letter? I guess it could have been worse -- they could have told me I didn't put the query into the body of an e-mail.

(for those who were just wondering -- a query letter is, according to
"...a single page cover letter, introducing you and your book. That’s it. Nothing more, nothing less. It’s not a resume. It’s not rambling saga of your life as an aspiring writer. It’s not a friendly, “Hey, what’s up, buddy. I’m the next John Grisham. Got the next best selling thriller for ya,” kind of letter. And for the love of god (sic), it is NOT more than one-page. Trust us on this.

A query letter has three concise paragraphs: the hook, the mini-synopsis, and your writer’s biography. Don’t stray from this format."

Truer words have never been spoken.)

Ironically, I didn't do that and, while I got backhanded by DAW, I got read by Leucrota, a small press dealing with science fiction, horror and fantasy. The book was rejected, of course. The editor liked it but couldn't quite get the main character's motivations. He then mentioned that I should send a query letter with the rewrite.

Thus, I 'd had my first real lesson in publishing -- read the submission instructions. It has helped me avoid future instances (so far) of smugly waiting for a letter from a publisher who thinks I'm too stupid to follow directions.

On a side note, I was both perturbed and perplexed at the rejection.  I went back and reread the entire novel. When I finished, I said "Wow, this guy was being kind. This thing sucks." So, then I felt worse. No query letter and my work blew.

So, I set about re-writing the entire novel (and adding four chapters, while borrowing liberally from Ghost in the Shell, Ghost in the Shell 2, Dark City, Minority Report and Children of Men). While I did that, I was busy in the online field, sending out short stories to and createspace and putting stuff up on Richard Yee from Writer's Bumpzine contacted me to put one of my stories into an anthology (hey, I didn't need a query letter, so I accepted; it's a rarity, so don't get all excited like I did). Most recently, Spectacular Speculations has been posting my work (I submitted my work with a query, in the body of the e-mail, of course -- oh, wait, I already used that joke; oh, what the hell, it's still funny).

I also sent out a query letter for Hunters , my novel about vampire killers, to Mystic Moon Press. They were intrigued enough to ask for a sample and then sent me a contract (alas, they've gone belly up, but they were, technically, the first book publishers to send me a contract).

Oh, I'm sorry, there were the second. I'd heard about this publisher called PublishAmerica and thought I'd try them. Then, I wisely did what I advocated in last week's blog -- I researched and found some not-too-kind words about them.

Hoping to get some answers, I did up a lengthy query letter and sent it to them. But, I rushed it and it went out with all sorts of misspellings and grammatical mistakes, the kind journalists like myself feel really embarrassed about.

Well, I may have been embarrassed but PublishAmerica wasn't.

They sent me a contract!

I think I burned it.

Would I still recommend PublishAmerica? I hear they've changed. My advice is to check their website and google comments about them. Sometimes beggars can't be choosers.

Okay, back to my blog.  I decided to stick to my old way of doing queries. That lasted until C.J. told me how she was going bald trying to craft a query letter for Vampire Vacation. I suddenly had the urge to hide in the attic with the squirrels. I soon got over it (the squirrels kicked me out), partly because I knew that there was no way that C.J. Ellisson (no relation to Harlan) could not write a brilliant query letter if I'd once done one that lay somewhere between crap and average.

Another thing that made me feel better about query letters is that I found something scarier than writing one. And that is...

...finding the right publisher!

Oh yeah, no problem there, eh? All the big companies get inundated by thousands of would-be writers, so they've all but decided to accept no new manuscripts unless through an agent who most likely has enough paperwork on his or her desk to make a social worker  or parole officer feel lucky.

Thus, I've had to seek out the small presses like Leucrota (found through an ad on A quick look in the library also got me references to things like Fiction Publishers Directory, a listing by Wildside Press of agents who deal with first-time writers, and that old standby Writer's Market. Beware, though, of Tor Fiction. They're pretty good but they have this list of new writers and they call it the Dick List. A very good resource but, for God's sake, don't ask the librarian for it by name.

Note: be prepared. You're going to find some rocks mixed in with your Halloween candy when looking for publishers, like I did with Mystic Moon Press. Some companies will be out to screw you, while others will mean well, but be overwhelmed by the industry. You'll see groups like PublishAmerica, CreateSpace and WordClay that you'll have to investigate before making a decision (though you should try CreateSpace's Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award). And, of course, there will be the vanity publishers, who will require you to pay to get published (with packages ranging up to the thousands).

Just keep sending out the queries. Use your best judgment and, above all, live and learn. Don't let the bad experiences or rejection slips get you down.

As I was saying, I scrolled through many sites online and through books at my local library (the ones that haven't been closed) to find resources. I sent query letters to many of them, but heard back from maybe 5 percent. At first, I felt like Bill Murray in "Ghostbusters" when Sigourney Weaver makes fun of his compliment to her:
"I don't have to take this abuse from you. I've got hundreds of people dying to abuse me."

But then, I settled down and figured that nothing had changed from the day before. I wasn't published the day before and I still wasn't published. Now, it's when you do get published and they start rejecting your later stuff that you know  you're screwed (I call it the "M. Night Shyamalan" effect).

To sum up, I don't dread the query letter anymore, though I wish I could have skipped the headaches I got from them. I know it's all part of a package that the publisher wants -- query letter, sample chapters, synopsis, etc. If I can't sum up what my book is about in one page, then I don't deserve to be published. It's not like it's a blog or something where I just ramble on and on. What counts more is that I understand the process of preparing my work to be sent to a publisher.

I don't really even dread the publisher. Once, they all used to be giant, drooling monsters hovering over desk tops, stuffing SASEs with brightly-colored rejection slips. Then, I realized that I was just scaring myself needlessly and had gotten it all wrong -- the rejection slips weren't brightly-colored.

In all seriousness, it was kind of scary.

But, not as scary as not trying. For the readers, there might be some benefits to be found in not trying, in seeking safety with the masses. But, most of the time, that doesn't work. There's a certain portion of the population that likes to drag go-getters down to their "safe" level because they don't have the chutzpah to do something outside the box. Those people are called human beings. We call them "the masses" for clarity.

If it helps you, do what I do (and I tend to do this a lot because there are too many people with my skin color who think science fiction is for white people). Think of the query letter as giving all of those naysayers the middle finger.

And when you get published, give them two, along with an autographed copy.

"Don't Send as an Attachment"

Does querying sound like a nightmare? Come join the Wicked Writers this week as we share our mistakes, our successes, and what we wish we had known before sending out that first query letter.

“Plan your work and work your plan.” No truer phrase could describe me. What I didn’t know about writing before I sent out my first query letter could fill numerous books—no, wait, it does fill numerous books. I read some advice that said not to expect a quick response from an agent and to be prepared to wait weeks or months.

Well, they were wrong.

I received my first response from one of my “A-list” agents in about thirty minutes. It was especially surprising because I’d committed the no-no of sending my query as an attachment. When I read “no attachments,” I thought it meant don't send your MS unless we ask for it. It wasn’t until an agent’s web site spelled out the “put your query into the body of the email” part did I understand what I’d done wrong.

Thinking I had weeks to go before I could possibly hear back, I was unprepared for that first agent asking to see my work so quickly. Sure, I’d rewritten my first chapter between ten to fifteen times, and had gone through the critique loop countless more, because I knew how crucial that initial opening was to be even considered by an agent. Oh, and here’s the kicker—my book wasn't quite complete yet. I had about five more chapters to write. I thought I'd have at least a few more weeks before hearing anything and would finish the first draft before anyone actually followed up. Surprise! Thirty minutes after my first query went out was WAY earlier than I anticipated.

So, ecstatic that someone asked for my work, I gave it a quick final read-through and sent the requested ten pages over. She didn't like it. In fact, some of her reply after reading my work sounded like she was annoyed I took up her time. Interestingly enough, I have never since received a response like I did from that very first agent rejection.

Here's a part of her colorful response (typos included):
Real people’s interior monologs don’t reach so hard for lush, romance-novel-expressions to describe what they are seeing and hearing and saying. So the narrator doesn't sound like an innkeeper or a vampire, but a script that has been shoved through a Romance Novel Thesaurus machine.

My free editorial advice is to revise by removing any word, phrase, or stock expression that even smells like Womance Witing and you might have a nifty Vampire Mystery. Then remove any prose that describes the character operating like a hydraulic system or computer.

Finally, the fact that the vamperoine has a warm (ha) relationship with her husband should provide the romantic element without carving each paragraph from Romantistone.

Was I crushed? Nah. Disappointed? Yes. My writing buddy and I laughed at her new made-up words and wondered what possessed her to write them. Perhaps she had a bad day, perhaps she had high hopes based on my query and my writing disappointed her. Maybe my style just wasn’t for her. No biggie in the long run. Her rejection ensured I now qualified for RWA’s PRO status (writers in the areas between manuscript submission and publication), once I finished the book. That was nice of her.

I went back to the drawing board and rewrote my entire first chapter—again. And I rewrote it another ten or so times before soliciting anyone again in August. By then, I’d finished the draft and the first few chapters gleamed to the best of my ability.

How many rejections will I have before it’s finally published? I don’t know, and frankly, I don’t care. Why bother to keep track when all it really takes is one “yes”?

Friday, January 22, 2010

Organizing Chaos

For over twenty years, I've written nonfiction and have become set in my ways, following techniques I learned in college to write research papers, mixed with my own anal organization skills to complete a job. I won't bore you with the details of this process, but I will mention that I originally used this method to write fiction. It didn't work.

Now, transitioning from a full-time nonfiction writer to a full-time fiction writer is one of the greatest challenges in my career. Sure I've gotten plenty of advice from other writers. Have also read lots of good and bad books on writing fiction—thank God for the library. Unfortunately, my search for just the right steps to write fiction still haven't come together for me yet.

I thought I might of found my routine when I read On Writing by Stephen King, and the lightbulb above my head turned on. Unfortunately, it appears to have a dimmer switch.
Incidentally, a few of my other favorite books on novel writing are Manuscript Makeover by Elizabeth Lyon and How to Write a Damn Good Novel by James N. Frey.

Mr. King makes it simple when he says forget everything you've learned and just sit down and write your first draft, committing to writing at least 2000 new words a day with no editing. So I tried it. Finally, after ten years of planning, I finish my first novel in four months but changed just about everything I'd previously written. Then the second novel spilled out of my head in a month. Eureka! He's brilliant...or so I thought.

I started editing the first novel two months after it sat untouched, just like Mr. King does. He also starts a new story and continues to write new words daily. This was easy enough, considering I had worked on editing short stories while I wrote the second novel. But silly me decided to change it up a bit. And so began the telling of The Courier in a serial Twitter novel, which started out to include writing and editing a new part daily, along with editing the first novel.

When you break the rules, you inevitably create obstacles, and boy did I create some major stumbling blocks. I've basically come full circle. You see, I stated writing The Courier as an experiment, not expecting it to become more than fun to read novella. Seven months later it has turned into a series of short novels that comically poke fun at corporations and organized religion (boy is that guna piss off a few people). By the way, the editing of that first novel got dropped months ago.

I've had to return to my research writing roots to create an elaborate corporate structure of angels and demons, while also planning out second, third, forth, etc. sequels. Also mix in my recent discovery that comedy writing follows rules...huh??

Now go back to my first nonfiction writing process doesn't work for my fiction writing. Damn head is spinning!
The best thing I've ever done was start a journal, twenty some years ago, for all the story ideas that come to me. I average between five to ten new ideas a month, some good and some horrible. I've got enough material to last a couple hundred years. Is there any way I can will them to myself in another lifetime?

So here I end this weeks post with a beginning, me trying to bring organization to my chaos. I can't tell you where I'm headed, but you can drop by my blog on Mondays (seems a appropriate day of the week to whine) and read more about my journey to figure out yet another process for writing fiction.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Words, Words, Words

If you ask ten writers the same ten questions about writing, you could get 100 different answers.  Writing is the most difficult subject to teach because no two people learn the same skills in the same order at the same rate, or even in the same way.  It’s a personal act that comes out of your own special rhythms, experiences, and thought processes.

Some people plot.  I plod.

Before I can write a word of a novel, I need to arrange at least 50 scenes in what looks like the best order.  This means writing longhand so I can scribble in the margin, draw arrows, and spread the pages out to see everything at once.  I write character biographies and try to find everyone’s voice, then type up the scene list as a word document and give it a clever title:  “Chronology A.”

This takes two or three months and I’ll change 90% of it while I write the first draft, but I sit down at the keyboard knowing, scene by scene, what to write that day.  It helps.

For the first draft, I write every day, including weekends and holidays.  I finished one first draft on my birthday.  My scenes average 5½ to six pages, during which something changes for a major character, and I try to write two a day, saving each one as a separate word document so I can change the order later.  It beats scrolling through 250 pages to find the three that I want to cut and paste.

Writing quickly helps me find the story’s rhythm and shows where I left something out or put something extra in.  It also shows me where I need to do research, which I try to avoid.  I keep a separate document called “Revision Notes” and date it as I go along. Character ideas go there, too.  Whenever I add, cut, or move a scene, it goes on a new chronology, so, at this stage, my favorite keyboard command is “Save As.”  Every day’s work goes on a flash drive, too.

Even when I’m writing, I get to the gym four or five days a week.  An arc trainer or a bike is a great place to ponder characters or problems, and the exercise keeps my brain from turning to oatmeal.  It also loosens my back after hours of hunching over a keyboard.  Any ideas I come up with go into the revision notes as soon as I get home.

By the time I finish the first draft, about two months, I’m usually working off chronology L or M.  The scenes are so thin you can suck them through a straw, but I know whether or not the trip from beginning to end makes any kind of sense.  No matter how terrible a first draft looks, I can fix it: that’s just process. I love process.

I turn to some other project to get the voices out of my head.  Then, after at least a month, I print out the last chronology, character list, and revision notes and do it all again.  The new scenes become files 1 b, 2 b, 3 b on the flash drive, and the chronology and revision list keep pace.  Then I go away again.  My first four drafts tend to get longer because I find details and description (which I hate to write) and hear the characters’ voices more clearly.  The fifth draft starts tightening and finding recurrence that will unify the structure.

At draft F or G, it’s time to print the scenes out and walk around the room reading them aloud.  That picks up awkward phrases, hard to pronounce passages, and repetition.  They may look fine on the screen, but now I hear the problems and maybe even feel them.  I insert transitions to combine scenes into chapters and find logical chapter breaks.  Sometimes, scenes work better by themselves instead of in groups, but I never know that until I hear them.

Now someone else has to read it all and decide if it’s really a story or just junk.  I have two friends who “get” my writing and will gladly tell me where it doesn’t work.  I wish I had ten more like them, but chocolate is expensive.  I consider every comment they make and follow their advice about 80% of the time.

Then I do it all again.  I expect to do at least ten drafts of anything before sending it out.  One story sold after the 24th revision.  This isn’t about how many times I do it; it’s about getting it right.

Sometimes, that even happens.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Three Ways I Skin The Cat

When the idea for Breathing in Bombay first came to me a few years ago, I raced to put the words on the page while they were still fresh. Instead of using an outline, I had a collection of plot points, characters, and a setting. I wrote fast and furious for a couple of months until I completed that first draft.

Since then, I’ve written three, maybe four, novels. Not different ones, mind you. Just the same novel, over and over. I’d like to think I’ve learned a lot through all these rewrites and revisions, but the best I can say is I’ve honed a writing process that works for me.

Once I have a concept, I prepare to write it by first filling out a detailed stepsheet. I learned this device from James N. Frey’s How to Write a Damn Good Mystery. In it, he introduces the idea of filling in chapter-by-chapter information in a multicolumn spreadsheet-type format. The stepsheet allows me to more easily track plot points, subplot threads, clues, story questions to be answered, and any holes in the narrative. It’s easy to build on and adapt to my own crazy needs.

Secondly, after meeting a persistent new author, C.J. Ellisson, who convinced me to become her writing buddy (and later, fellow Wicked blogger), I discovered other excellent techniques. One is having a brainstorming session with a writing partner who gets my story vision. I run ideas, maybe even pieces of writing, past her, including how I plan to get from point A to point B (or C), goals I plan to achieve along the way, and what drives my characters’ actions. C.J.'s job is to find holes in these elements, and mine is to strengthen the core ideas and make them bulletproof. This interchange has transformed the way I write. My characters are flesh and blood individuals and the story is alive for me before I ever start writing.

C.J. also showed me a nifty little technique I’ve adopted for outlining. (Turns out Dickens outlined the same way. Always great to have an English teacher as a fellow blogger, no?) Here’s how it works. Once I have a basic story concept, I map out each chapter using three (at most, four) sentences: one sentence to cover the opening hook, one or two more to provide a high-level view of the overall chapter, and a last line for the ending hook.

I still start with a detailed stepsheet in which I flesh out the whole story and make sure everything links up, but while writing, I stack the shorter outline on top of the stepsheet and place both next to my computer. The outline in particular ensures my writing is both creative and spontaneous as well as tight and focused. In knowing the beginning and ending of each chapter and parts of the middle, the rest is just me trying to spin a good yarn. Sounds way too simple but I’m pleased with the results.

I added the third piece of my process back in November. I’d signed up for my first National Novel Writing Month, also known as NaNoWriMo, to write my sequel. Of course, I pulled together my detailed stepsheet, had a long planning session with C.J., and mapped out my outline. I also read NaNoWriMo founder Chris Baty’s companion book on succeeding in the month-long writing race. In it, he advises getting through the month by writing as much as possible with no self editing. Instead, as he suggested, I wrote notes to myself at whichever point I was at in my text with a plan to go back and make those changes during a later revision. If I wrote something that I knew had to go, I highlighted or italicized it instead of cutting it. That allowed me to keep my writing groove (and meet the contest’s final word count).

Many NaNo participants attest to eventually having to throw out much of what they write during NaNo but that the intense process of writing all month forces them to finetune their story ideas. By the end of the month, some say they have at least a few nuggets of gold they can hang on to during revision. For me, starting with the other pieces—the stepsheet, the outline, the brainstorming session with another writer—all made my first draft pretty strong (with little to no garbage).

So that’s how I write novels. There are a lot of ways to approach this process, and I know my approach may not work for others. But the combination of these techniques gets me from concept to a solid first draft more effectively than any other strategies I’ve tried.

How about you? Any tricks of the trade or secrets to writing success you can share?

Monday, January 18, 2010

Believability equals credibility

When I wrote this blog, I'd just wasted four hours of my life.  You guessed it.  I watched Peter Jackson's version of King Kong. Looking for a silver lining, I realized that what the movie lacked is what I what I strive for -- believability and strong characters.

Why? Because believability equals credibility.

Don't believe me? Do the math:

Believe + ability = believability

Believability + strong characters = credibility

In King Kong, we see King Kong skating on a frozen pond. We see Naomi Watts atop the Empire State Building in a sleeveless night gown in the middle of winter without shivering once. We see Ann Darrow and King Kong form a relationship on Skull Island through what can only be described as the Helsinki Syndrome. And, after the ape has murdered every blonde he can lay his hands on in Times Square before Ann comes to him, we suddenly see "CSI" and "Criminal Minds."

Peter Jackson wanted us to believe that?

Sorry, but the math was wrong.

Thus, when I write science fiction, I do my research.  The readers already suspend belief when they read science fiction and fantasy, but we must make them believe in the "science" we give them. I come up with my "science" and check on it, often working it backwards to see if it is grounded in some sort of reality. I strap down my facts rather than letting them pile up like a game of Jenga?

Next, I go for basic research. I find out the who, what, when, where and how. Sounds simple until you realize that I've violated one of the basic laws of writing -- too many characters. It can be done, but with peril. I try the peril just to see if I can do it. It's like cooking class in 5th grade when the teacher gave us 10 jellies and jams we could use for the filling of our muffins and I chose all of them...mixed each muffin. Miss Cataldo, for the umpteenth time, I'm sorry.

To continue, I come up with names (I think of classmates, co-workers, neighbors, relatives, friends and just juxtapose the names; the phone book also works well).

I decide what places I want to use. If I use the Amazon, I must accurately choose cities and towns that are really along the river, like Belem. If I say a character eats lunch on the main street in Montevideo, Uruguay, I need to say that the street is 18 de julio.

Why? Because almost everyone has access to the Internet. They might find one of my facts interesting, go online to learn more and find out I got it all wrong.

Like when Thomas Wyndham, in his classic Day of the Triffids (1957), said that Mankind was blinded by a worldwide meteor shower that burned out the retinas of the human eye.  In reality, the glare from the meteorites hitting the atmosphere was only visible at night, so only half the world would have been affected.

Phew,  science fiction/fantasy is the hardest genre to write in. Wasn't it Edison who said his work was 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration?

Now, armed with my facts, I begin to write. I should be plotting out the story, but I was the guy in school who turned in the A-plus theme paper without doing the outline. I write, stop, look back, correct, change and then write anew. My attention span isn't that great (I can write, read a book, watch TV, play on the computer, walk around, talk to myself and then write again, all in an hour -- time for Dr. Phil, eh?).

When I finish a chapter, I leave it alone for a day or so, then go back and read it again to see how it sounds. Sounds maddening, doesn't it?

I don't recommend my style of writing (or lack thereof) to most people.

I'll admit that I'm not as organized as C.J. Ellison, Supriya, Steve or even Wendy (just kidding, Wendy). I'm a journalist and we journalists usually operate by the mantra of "controlled chaos." When I was writing Land of the Blind chapter by chapter for Harley Palmer's Writing Academy, I had to take a suggestion and create a list of characters for reviewers to follow.  Sometimes, I need it to remind myself of my own characters like when Anna Velasquez suddenly became Anna Vasquez after chapter nine.

An important pillar of believability is "character development." In science fiction/fantasy, characters have to be strong enough to rise above the science. On "24," I wonder why that blonde CTU supervisor who is being stalked by an ex-boyfriend doesn't just have some federal agent make him "disappear."  However, I don't expect that when Sarah Connor is being stalked by the Terminator. I would have to make Sarah strong enough to be able to deal with it on her own. I would not want people see her in danger and start yawning, like I did when Trinity bought the farm in Matrix Revolutions.

[caption id="attachment_478" align="alignnone" width="239" caption="You need characters to be strong like Sarah Connor in "Terminator 2""][/caption]

In Land of the Blind, I want you to feel Anna Velasquez's relief when she finally kills the man who massacred her entire family.  And then I want you feel her horror when that "dead" man walks into her headquarters and wipes out her entire unit.  I need to make people understand what drives a man like Devereaux Marshall Fox and keep Maria Red Horse by Anna, no matters what happens to her.

I have to have strong, three dimensional characters --  more like Sarah Connor and less like Altaira (Forbidden Planet).

By now, you're thinking that writing science fiction is pretty involved and it is. But, the more work you do on the front end, the less you do on the back end. As the saying goes, you don't get a second chance to make a first impression.

Like C.J. (Ellisson), I post my work (like Hunters and Land of the Blind) on (my stuff is on so others can offer reviews. It's a good way to get reviews and to find the mistakes you missed, though the members tend to go a little easy on you (Lord knows I've stopped reading a story or two rather than give a 1.0 rating and go outside to throw up).

I also don't let my family and friends read it until it's published. I don't want any bad feelings or fewer Christmas gifts.

So, to sum up, I put a lot of work into research and character development. I constantly tweak and rewrite. I then put it online for anonymous reviews.

All of this takes time, but the reward of finishing something that you've given your best effort can make it worth all the work. If I do it right, I should get this...

...and not this...

I hope this gives some insight to my writing style (and mental state).

P.S.: For those really serious about writing science fiction or fantasy, Go find a copy of the Hugo Award-winning author Orson Scott Card's classic How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy.

Creating the Beast

Happy Monday, everyone! I'm pleased to announce that this week the Wicked Writers will be sharing our novel-writing secrets with you. How do we create a novel? Stop by each day, and I'm sure you'll see that all of us do things a little differently.

I started with an idea and the basic American dream to write a novel. Did I think it would be worth reading in the end? I had no clue, but I had read so many books within my genre that I had a clear concept of what was missing and what I would do differently if I ever created my own book. Those ideas percolated for years. I had a basic premise in my head, but no time, desire, or drive to sit down and write.

I had my opening line, one I’d honed in my mind for a while—“I open the door to find a body at my feet" - and one my inexperience in writing didn't tell me was written in a first person present tense style. I love reading books in first person myself, but I had no idea that the style of present tense I picked was frowned upon by professionals and a lot of the publishing industry.

I proceeded to write with a vague idea of where my story was going. My mentor, Supriya Savkoor, told me I had to know the ending before I wrote too far in—or else what was I writing toward?

One thing the business world has taught me is how to plan. You will never succeed in any venture without one. So I applied that same logic and planned out my entire book. Without knowing how other writers outlined, I just wrote three or four lines describing the action or plot motion I intended for each chapter.

I did what worked for me, and my novel quickly evolved. Once I had written the first ten or so chapters, I did something completely out of the norm—I threw my work out to the public for reader response. I had already joined two critique groups, two writing guilds and various subchapters, and two online critique sites. In less than two months, I had feedback from dozens of writers on my opening chapters.

I launched a Facebook Fan Page (not a traditional profile page, as this one is open to the public), a mere two months from typing "Chapter One" and much to my surprise, real readers loved my story. No one commented on the present-tense style that’s not yet in vogue among my peers. Instead, these readers were pulled into my story and the sense of immediacy they found in my writing style.

Opening myself and my work up to readers was the best thing I ever did. They helped me with character names (which became increasingly difficult to think up), tried to predict where I was going with the plot, and cheered me on while I churned out more chapters. Before I hit more than 2,000 readers through various channels of exposure (and that is just the 2,000 who spoke up and told me their thoughts), I found out I couldn't put more than a small portion of my book out for public consumption or it would qualify as being already published by some publishing standards.

So I formed two private reading groups with about 275 members combined. The first one was with writers (about 30 of them), and the larger group was readers of my genre, urban fantasy. Each set of eyes offered valuable input. It was an incredible learning experience, and I met some great people who became friends. These readers and writers helped me to shape my story; I always had my plan, but they helped me to see where that plan needed refining.

In less than five months, I finished my first 90,000-word erotic urban fantasy. In the end, my way to create a novel was a very unorthodox one, but I wouldn't have changed a thing. I found out last Friday that my book, Vampire Vacation, achieved second place in Dorchester Publishing's America's Next Best Cellar (yes, that is the actual name, I didn't spell Seller wrong) contest that was billed as looking for a “fresh voice in Romance.”

It was the most grueling contest I've been in so far, but I'm glad I did it. My book—which is not actually a Romance in the traditional sense of the word (and anyone who has read it would agree), but a combination of many genres—beat out more than 300 other much more experienced writers to get to the top. I'm thrilled my novel came as far as it did, and I think it speaks huge volumes on the path I've taken. Don’t let anyone tell you, “you can’t do that.” You'll never know unless you try.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Pain is Funny

Like every writer, my early childhood played an important role in choosing the genres I write today, with television being a pretty huge contributor. In fact, I spent way too much time as a kid, staring at the old black and white tube we had in our bedroom. My tastes in programming have carried over into the dark mix of horror, fantasy and comedy I write today.

Going back down memory lane, my first influences to write horror and fantasy, surprisingly, did not come from Sister Paul (see last week's post). Instead, it all started one afternoon, at the age of four, when my grandmother allowed me to watch the 1963 B-movie, The Crawling Hand (I’m sure Greg has seen it). And at my other grandmother’s house, there were the frightening viewings of a show called Night Gallery. I watched it with my twin aunts, munching on popcorn, unbeknownst to Nonny. I liked the feeling of fear at an early age, so I became a horror addict, always on the look out for new programming that could scare the bejesus out of me or turn my stomach more violently than the last show I'd viewed. Only difference today is that I have access to a greater number of films...gotta love that.

I actually miss the good old days, when scaring small children with horrific stories was considered the norm. Find me an original fairy tale that doesn't terrorize children. Lessons are taught well through fear, but I suppose this is a subject for another post.

Now you ask, what about the comedy? Well...It all started with these three guys.

I mix the dark side with comedy because pain is funny. Don’t even try to argue it’s not. Nine times out of ten, we laugh at someone else’s expense. How else could we humans get past the horrible moments in our lives with our sanity?

Comedy writing is new for me though, The Courier being my first attempt at it in a full length novel. Luckily, it's coming to me naturally, but I also have to attribute it to raising two boys and watching A LOT of goofy horror flicks like Bad Taste (more reasons to love Peter Jackson), Evil Ed and Shaun of the Dead.

Gosh, so far I haven't even mentioned books. Yeah, I've read quite a bit of fantasy and horror. Sure, a myriad of good and bad fiction authors have helped to shape my writing. But when it comes to influences, I have to turn to nonfiction, especially in the area of philosophy and religion. And so re-enters Sister Paul. As a person who is constantly questioning my own faith, I can't help but be absolutely fascinated by spirituality, an underlying theme in my works. And, I especially love to take horrific real life situation, as in my short story Blush of the Dead that addresses gendercide in Bosnia, and mix it with fantastic characters like zombies.

Darn! I'm running out of space for this week's post. Being a Leo, I could go on forever about myself. I've got only one last thing to mention, and that is I haven't read much comedy in fiction form. Got any suggestions??

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Violence Is Golden

When I started writing again, both teachers and theater rats asked me the same question:

“But why crime?”

Let me give you the long answer first.

People fascinate me.

We all want something really badly.  Maybe it’s money, maybe it’s love, maybe it’s that new iPod.  It doesn’t matter.  What does matter is what you’ll give up for it.  You have to give up something to get something.  That’s how it works.  If it means working for hours at a job you don’t really like, or cleaning up your language and remembering her birthday and learning to open doors so she can walk through first, that’s one thing.

When you fudge that simple rule and take a shortcut, like robbing a bank or killing her current boyfriend, that’s another.  The shortcut may get you there faster, but the consequences come up thick and fast, too, and how are you going to avoid them?  You have to take another, bigger shortcut, and then you’ve got…

That’s where I come in.

It doesn’t matter whether you read Thomas Hardy or the Hardy Boys. People want, and their desire will drive them over that seductive little line while we sit back and watch.  Crime writing has been with us from the very beginning when Cain killed Abel or Zeus overthrew Kronos.  But innocence isn’t lack of evil, it’s lack of knowledge of evil, so until we can make a choice (Hey, Adam, want a piece?), it doesn’t count.

Crime writing counts.

Crime writing examines people who want something too much and explores what happens when they pick Door Number Three.  We’ve all been an eyelash away from doing it ourselves, and maybe we even envy those people—the guy who gets away with ten million dollars or buries the body so he can be with Alotta Libido—don’t we?  Just a little?  Sure we do.

You’re never quite as alive as when you’ve got a problem and the clock is ticking.  That’s why we bet on the Super Bowl.  Then the clock runs out and so do the shortcuts.


We need the Good Guy, too. After all, someone has to clean off the fan and put the furniture back.  We still want to believe someone else can fix it.  That’s where the cop, little old lady with cats, or curious neighbor comes in, to restore order and make sure everyone gets what he deserves.  We need the world to make sense, and crime writing invokes reason and logic.

Joyce Carol Oates has said that, in some form or another, everything she writes is crime fiction.  She’s not alone.  Lord Jim, Beloved, Oedipus The King, Huckleberry Finn, Wuthering Heights, The Scarlet Letter, Macbeth, The Brothers Karamazov, Pride And Prejudice, Native Son, Our Mutual Friend, Anna Karenina, The Great Gatsby, Sanctuary, Madame Bovary, and To Kill A Mockingbird all have a crime at their core.  And they barely chip enough off the literary iceberg to cool your cocktail.

My latest published story sees the world through the eyes of an eight-year-old boy meeting his divorced dad’s new girlfriend and her daughter for the first time.  He’s jealous.  Stuff happens.

But why crime?

Well, you’ve heard the long answer.

The short answer?

It’s fun.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Solving the Genre Mystery

Literary fiction’s not considered a genre, but that’s what I’ve read most of my life, particularly literary novels set in exotic locales. Starting with The Good Earth back in middle school, I’ve always been drawn to intricate, elegant stories filled with poetic descriptions, faraway locations, and rich doses of history, drama, and social themes that make me think.

A few years ago, I got hooked on mystery novels, which offer many of those same elements along with a faster pace, higher stakes, and challenging puzzles that often force me to keep turning the pages way past my bed time. Not just following clues to solving crimes and other unusual circumstances but also to figuring out people and what motivates us. All the same stuff I love about literary novels, just presented in a different way.

So as I wrote my first mystery, Breathing in Bombay, I had to figure out what subgenre it fell into within the category. That’s when I realized there are quite a few of them: traditional (also known as cozies), suspense, and thriller; historical and futuristic; police procedural versus amateur sleuth; and so on. The choices seemed endless.

Of course, while I was figuring out my subgenre, I stayed on the lookout for good mystery novels with an international flair. I came across many excellent authors who’ve transported me to fascinating places: Tana French to Ireland, Karin Fossum to Norway, Stieg Larsson to Sweden, and my latest addiction, Arnaldur Indridason, who opened the door to both Iceland and East Germany with his stellar book, The Draining Lake.

I also began reading a new breed of American authors that includes Sujata Massey, S.J. Rozan, and Lisa See, whose main characters straddle two cultures. That’s a concept my series is based on as well, and how I discovered the multicultural mystery subgenre. I was thrilled to find a niche that combines adventure, intrigue, international settings, cultural issues and social themes. A niche where my own book belongs.  It’s been loads of fun to write—and hopefully readers will enjoy it too.

What about you? Have you read any good international or multicultural mysteries lately? I’m always looking for recommendations!

Monday, January 11, 2010

I'd like to thank "Creature Double Feature," Elvira, Half-Price Books, Sun Coast Video, WDC and...

I originally intended to do something very in-depth to explain why I chose science fiction as my main genre, but I thought it would be so boring it would put readers to sleep.

I know because I just found myself face down on my desk and my keyboard covered in drool.

So, I am opting for a shortened version.

I got my introduction to science fiction from WLVI Channel 56 in Boston, Massachusetts.  As a kid in the late 70's, I was glued to the TV set on Saturday afternoons from 1-3, watching "Creature Double Feature."  The Emmy-winning program showcased some of the best and many of the worst science fiction and horror films ever made -- Beast from 20,000 Fathoms; Them!; Tarantula; Giant Gila Monster; The Creature from the Black Lagoon; Kingdom of the Spiders; Legend of Hell House; Maneater of Hydra; It Conquered the World; The Blob; Plan 9 From Outer Space; Rodan; The Mysterians; Frankenstein Conquers the World; Reptilicus; Angry Red Planet; Journey to the Seventh Planet; Planet of Blood; Queen of Outer Space; Attack of the Giant Leeches; Earth Vs. The Spider; Attack of the Killer Shrews; The Thing from Another World; Attack of the Puppet People; The Abominable Dr. Phibes; Fall of the House of Usher; The Terror; Frankenstein; Frankenstein AD 1970; The X from Outer Space; Gamera; The Mummy's Hand...

The cheesefest was endless.

Of course, my personal favorite (and the one that still rankles my mother who had to endure two hours of mindless nonsense each Saturday) was just about anything with Godzilla.

Anyway, I got this idea that I could write my own stories involving monsters and so I set pen to paper.  Later, as I got older and looked at CDF more to pick out lame special effects and hokey acting, I wrote to see if I could come up with better plots than what I was watching.

I am always eternally grateful to WLVI and "Creature Double Feature" because it started my love affair with writing.  To make my writing even better, I progressed into journalism by writing for my high school newspapers, first with the Medford (Mass.) Mustang and then with the Euless (Texas) Trinity Palantir after moving to the Lone Star state in 1982.

Next up was college at Prairie View A&M University where I found Elvira, Mistress of the Dark.  For anyone who has ever seen Cassandra Peterson in her alter ego, you know she can create a rise and an intense watch crummy grade Z sci-fi flicks on "Midnite Madness."

Anyway, to continue.  I got my commission and served as an engineer officer aboard USS Blue Ridge (LCC-19), flagship of the US 7th Fleet, in Yokosuka, Japan.  I still wrote, but, oddly enough, found few Japanese willing to indulge my love of Godzilla.

When I returned home from the Navy, I rediscovered my love of science fiction with Sun Coast Video.  The now-defunct retailer was a pillar of most of the malls in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex.  I raided their science fiction racks for more than 400 videos, all priced under $10.

I then began searching for science fiction books and got hooked on Half-Price Books where tomes were bought from customers and then sold at discount prices.  I started looking for the book versions of some of my movie faves.

I can see this is getting long-winded, so I'll wrap up.  The last group I'd like to thank for my love of science fiction is  WDC gave me an active outlet to showcase my writing when traditional publishing houses were taking fewer and fewer new writers.  Through WDC, I found online "e-zine" publishers like Writer's Bump, Spectacular Speculation, Far Side of Midnight, and Leucrota Press, among others.

As for why I write science fiction, I like to be creative.  Some say I live in a dream world most of the time anyway.  I can take modern society and advance it into the future to see what life might be like.  I can think of new inventions and technology.  I can answer questions like:

Why haven't we done this?

Why did Sci-Fi Channel change to "Sy fy"?

Who's this C.J. Ellisson? (sorry, couldn't resist)

And, finally, we can ask the biggest questions of all:

"What if...?" and "Can we?" and "Should we?"

I can speculate on things like this all day, but I think it's bedtime for me and time for the readers to go to work.

Just remember this, my friends.  I don't always write fiction, but when I do, I write science fiction.

Now, if that isn't cheesy, I haven't learned anything from "Creature Double Feature."

Sex, Lies and Vampires

This week, the Wicked team will be writing about genres - what we read, what we write and why.  Yes, the title of my post is a cheesy rip-off of the movie title, Sex, Lies and Videotape. And if you're under thirty, you may have no idea what movie I'm talking about.

I've been an avid reader for over three decades. The first book that really spoke to me will always be Jack London's The Call of the Wild. I was 12 years old and the story came alive for me -- as if a movie of the dog and his plight were playing in my head.  London's classic novel marks the first moment I can recall when reading really changed for me. It became an escape -- a suspension of reality.

By the end of that same year, I was reading Tolkien and had fallen in love with all things Fantasy. I devoured all the popular authors available in the genre I could find.  I borrowed books from friends - I made new older friends who were obsessed with Role Playing Games (RPG). I thought of taking the plunge and trying these new games, but I was so young and the reports in the news of this new "fad" sounded like an addiction to drugs. RPG's were such a time-consuming rage that parents were scared.

I avoided it until college, which was when the craze started dying down.  I gave it a go when a very experienced, close-knit group of dedicated gamers let me into their private circle.  I only had the pleasure of playing with them a handful of times but I was amazed.  It was like living a book.  The game masters (GMs) were incredibly gifted and I was sure someone should be taking notes on all the action as we played to put it into a book series because it was one hell of a fun ride.

My love of Fantasy also extended to Romance.  How else was a young woman supposed to figure out what really happens when the lights go off?  Obviously, older and wiser now as I approach forty, I can see that those stories were essentially fantasies too, but I really loved them at the time.  They helped explore the angst and trust issues all young people have in new relationships and I ate them up.

After Romance I moved to Mystery and Thrillers.  I'm leaving out a brief stint in high school with a love affair of Stephen King. His books don't fall under any one genre, but at the time - the mid '80s - I read about twelve to fifteen of his books.  I only stopped reading him when I had trouble sleeping and his characters invaded my dreams to haunt me.  He's just that damn good.

Past dark and light Mysteries, forensic science and lawyer-inspired books, I discovered vampires. Vampires led me to werewolves and other supernatural beasties and it was like coming full circle. These were the modern day fantasy novels that appealed to me the most and I was hooked.

In the most recent ten years, I've read a ton of Urban Fantasy, Paranormal Suspense, Paranormal Mystery, Paranormal Romance and even some amazing stuff that might be called Paranormal Erotica (Emma Holly rocks!).  I've loved it all and it was my sincere hope that I could produce something similar to the works I've loved with Vampire Vacation.  It's a first-person story done in a present-tense style that reminds me so much of the feeling of immediacy I found in role playing games.

Have I succeeded and will readers enjoy my take on Urban Fantasy? Only time will tell.

What do you read and why?  I'd love to see if there are any fellow gamers out there!

Friday, January 8, 2010

Influenced to Write Horror by a Nun?

W. J. here, or call me Wendy.

I’ve been a writer most of my life and made a career of it, writing boring technical documents in the Air Force and the Information Technology industry. Yes that also makes me a geek. The technical writing paid the bills for years, but my ultimate goal is to become a published fiction author.

I’m also a pretty talented artist, which is where my creativity first blossomed as a child. But I live in my head, most of the time. I’m one of those people you can talk to one minute and wonder if I actually heard a word you’ve said, and driven and focused the next. Basically, if I were a kid today, I’d probably be on prescription meds for ADD. Anyways—I may have just had one of my outer limits moments—the pictures in my head would never stay still long enough for me to draw them. So, naturally, I progressed to writing the pictures down as stories. I don’t draw much these days, but in the back of my mind there’s a graphic novel just begging me to create it.

I’ve had some of the same influences as my fellow Wicked Writers, but I thought it might be fun to go way back to my childhood for my greatest influences. Drum roll please. And the award goes to my first grade teacher, a cruel nun named Sister Paul. She considered me a demon incarnate at the age of six because I wasn’t baptized. She also felt it was her mission to remind me, daily, I was not welcome in a classroom run by the Catholic Church, and that I should return to Hell where I most certainly belonged. Needless to say, my defense at such a young age was to get sick, a lot. I had a number of childhood diseases that year and missed over one hundred days of school. Now imagine having the imagination of a six year old, mixed with frequent fevers. Let’s just say I spent much of the first grade in a bizarre and horrific dream world. I still vividly remember every recurring nightmare I had that year. In fact, the second novel I wrote, still unpublished, is based on one of those dreams.

Don’t feel sorry for the adorable little flower girl pictured to the left. Sister Paul was partially right. I had a horrible side, mostly victimizing my sister, talking her into eating dog food and using her toothbrush to clean my fish bowl. Maybe my parents should have named me Denise the Menace. One time I purposely landed a rather large rock on a boy’s head, nearly knocking him out, just because I thought it would be fun. After he tattled to his mom, who immediately called my mother, I lied my way out of trouble. I got pretty good at weaving tales of deception to get myself out of trouble. Only worked about 1% of the time though, so I learned a lot of lessons the hard way. And who knows, if I hadn't found a creative outlet in drawing and writing, I might be in prison or on Snapped.

Okay, on to my fiction writing accomplishments… I write fiction full time now, usually curled up on the couch with two beagles, nagging at my son who might finish online high school when he’s 20. Don’t tell him I said that because there’s no chance he’ll read this. I’ve completed two novels that still need serious editing. I also write short stories I release to the public through my website. I’m currently working on my third novel, The Courier, a dark mix of fantasy, horror and comedy. The story is about a guy named Barry, down on his luck and unable to keep a job. When he finds himself, yet again, unemployed, he jumps at the first position he’s offered, a courier for Hell. The Courier has been a hoot to write and has taught me that I have a natural talent for writing comedy. I started writing The Courier for fun on Twitter, and entered it in the Textnovel Online Fiction Contest. To my surprise, it was a co-winner last year. Check it out on Twitter @TheCourierNovel, if you like to read backwards, or at

I’m rather excited about contributing to this blog with the wicked gang. We have quite a diverse group of writers, and after reading everyone’s bios, we can each bring a unique perspective on the publishing industry. Thanks for asking me to join C.J.!!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Teacher, Thespian and Novelist? Um, yeah

Hi and welcome to the Wicked Writers.  I’m Steve.

My sister and I are the two youngest of seven first cousins, at least four of whom have taught.  Teachers, journalists, and lawyers hang on our family tree back to before the Civil War.  Older cousins read to us constantly, which did more than anyone else to develop my ear for rhythm.

I majored in teaching instead of writing, but grad school resurrected my urge to put words on paper and I wrote five unpublished novels over the next eight years, one of which became my sixth-year thesis at Wesleyan University.  Among other projects, I’m presently rewriting that book and hope to have it ready to send out by late spring.

I drifted into theater, where the social aspects of rehearsing and performing drew me away from writing for several years.  In fact, I still run a playwriting workshop I developed after acting, directing, producing, or designing for about 90 plays throughout central Connecticut. Then, just as I took early retirement from teaching, the local theater group lost its performance space.

To fill the suddenly available time, I returned to writing.  My first plan was to rewrite that thesis, but, at my high school reunion back in Michigan, I met a classmate who was a session musician in Detroit.  Either personally or through about two degrees of separation, she has played with Meat Loaf, Lou Reed, Bob Seger, and Alice Cooper, and she became the inspiration for a series with a private investigator who is a wannabe guitar slinger and his girlfriend, who is the real deal.  The first book has been revised more often than federal health care legislation and is currently seeking an agent. “Stranglehold”  features the same cast and won the Black Orchid Novella Award from The Wolfe Pack and Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, which will publish it in their summer 2010 double issue.

I read dozens of books on writing, attended the Wesleyan Writers Conference, and met writers who encouraged me to keep trying.  Through their help and encouragement, I’ve published three short stories, two of them Honorable Mention for the Al Blanchard Story Award from MWA.

Even though I experiment with romance, comedy, and sort of mainstream material too, most of what I write is crime fiction in one form or another.  Every time I sit down to write, I discover how much I still have to learn about this stuff—and how much I love it.

Three years ago, an actress in a play I was directing challenged me to write a romance. Somewhere along the line, it morphed from romance to mystery, and Mainly Murder Press will publish the result in May 2010.

In Who Wrote The Book of Death? someone is trying to finish the author instead of the book.  When PI Greg Nines agrees to protect a woman from death threats, he assumes that her name isn’t really Taliesyn Holroyd.  Unfortunately, he also assumes she’s really a romance novelist with a book in progress.  She assumes he’s no longer drinking after his own wife’s murder.  What else they don’t know could bury them both along with the book.

Nines realizes he’s falling in love with a woman who doesn’t even exist, but unless he can find the truth hidden in a maze of suspects—an angry ex-husband, an asexual lottery winner, a college rapist, and a philandering politician with mis-matched eyes—nobody will have a happy ending.

My website will appear in the spring.  I’ll keep you up to date on other projects here, too, and invite you to comment and ask questions whenever the mood strikes you.

Thanks for dropping by.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Supriya's Story

2009 was a good year. I began polishing my first suspense novel, Breathing in Bombay, and wrote nearly half of its sequel, Chasing Cairo. This year, I plan to finish revisions and find an agent to represent the first book, hopefully sell it to a publisher, complete the sequel, and begin work on the third novel in the Across Black Waters series. Oh, and while I’m at it, figure out how to blog. Am I up to the challenge? We’ll find out, right?

I feel more confident than ever about meeting these goals because I’ve spent several years exclusively honing my craft. Okay, more than a few years. I started my writing journey decades before the concept for these two novels occurred to me. I’d dabbled in fiction writing as a child and on through my teens before settling on journalism as my college major. I figured I had a better shot at paying my rent that way, and I was right, albeit marginally. (Those early paychecks didn’t quite cover the rent, truth be told.)

As a print journalist, I tried my hand at just about everything. I started out as a newspaper reporter in a small Texas town, went on to write features for a magazine supplement of a Houston newspaper, served as a media coordinator for a Washington, D.C. think tank (“on the Hill”), wrote opinion pieces for a number of major newspapers, fact checked financial articles, wrote about business trends for a Georgetown newsletter, oversaw production for a group of trade magazines, and ultimately served as its executive editor. Along the way, I did some ghostwriting and edited a few books. Looking back, I can hardly believe the fantastic opportunities I’ve had in the publishing world over the years.

But the best is yet to come. I’d always wanted to write a book. Any book; it never really mattered what kind. For a long time, I thought it would have to be nonfiction, given all of the above. Then a few years ago, I was struck by an idea for a mystery novel. Forget that I’d only ever read a handful of mystery novels in my life. How hard could it be? After all, I read a lot of other kinds of books. And I’m a parent: What can’t I do?

So, confidence in hand, I went off to write me a book. I read all the mystery novels I could get my hands on (still working on that, by the way) plus loads of how-to books. I took writing classes, joined critique groups and associations, chatted endlessly with my husband and fellow writers about ideas for scenes and characters and plot. And I started writing. And writing and writing ... and revising. The more I learned, the more challenging the endeavor became. Yet that first novel kept screaming out: “Don’t give up on me!” And finally, after an excruciating number of revisions, the novel I’d envisioned started to take shape.

Breathing in Bombay is the story of Indian-American Diya Rao, who moves to Mumbai to pursue her dream of becoming an entrepreneur. Soon after her arrival, the favorite aunt she’d been staying with is murdered, and the killer is on the loose. Devastated but determined to not give up and move back to D.C., Diya uncovers a trail of family secrets, corporate intrigue, and social causes gone wrong. The story is set in the summer of 2005, amid the backdrop of an actual historic monsoon flood that engulfed the city. As the water recedes, Diya’s quest for purpose and adventure in a new city becomes a fight for her life.

This book has been exceptionally fun to write. I get to revisit fond memories of interesting and beautiful places I experienced during my childhood vacations in India. I look forward to sharing my trials and tribulations with you as I seek publication for my first novel and toil to finish the second.

Thanks for stopping by, and I hope we’ll see you back again soon. Comments welcome. We don’t bite! Well, all except for C.J., but that’s another story.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

What idiot didn't post today? Oops, that's me

Well,  a fine start for me isn't it? Kind of characterizes my writing style. I was the guy in school who wrote a theme paper and then went and did the outline.

I must apologize for not having a sharply written blog (or any written blog) in time for the morning commute and coffee (though if you read blogs while commuting I cannot be held responsible by your auto insurer).

Okay, here's my story. I got my interest in writing from, ironically, television.  I was an avid fan of Creature Double Feature on WLVI-Channel 56 in Boston.  Every Saturday at 1 p.m. I would be in front of the TV watching old grade B (and grade Z) sci-fi flicks like "Zontar: Thing from Uranus" (actually from Venus but if you see the movie, you'll get the joke).

I thought I could write a better story than most of the movies so I set pen to paper.  I got my first professional exposure as a reporter for the Medford (Mass.) High School Mustang.  After moving to Euless, Texas in 1982, I wrote for the Trinity High School Palantir, eventually becoming managing editor.

I went to Prairie View A&M University where I learned how to put out a professional product with 1970's technology.  I mean, I once went to a college newspaper convention in Austin and found out the PVAMU (a historically black institution) was the only big school in Texas still using spray mount and exacto knives.

The Navy interrupted my writing career but I sent articles to a magazine called Mini-World that catered to Japanese students and businessmen trying to learn about the English-speaking world.  I don't think I set back relations more than a decade.

After the Navy, I worked for a magazine publisher as sports editor, columnist and special projects manager.  Alas, I was the only real journalist in the place so people never batted an eye when I interviewed Arnold Palmer, George Foreman, Steffi Graff et al.  A real bummer when people ask you who Arnold Palmer is and they say it with a totally straight face (though the subscribers loved the articles).

Eventually, we got bought out by Tribune Media and I drifted to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.  If you Google it, you'll find my name on several big articles, as well as being burned in effigy.  I'd say that my skills with the FWST were vast, but my stories seemed to be half-vast.

But, after all my working travails, I find myself back into freelancing as a sports writer for, covering Black College Sports.  I continue to write my short stories and have finished two novels (Hunters and Land of the Blind), two novellas or novellettes (Crawl and They Call the Wind Muryah), an anthology (Dark Tidings) and several shorts that have appeared online in Writer's Bump, Far Side of Midnight, Spectacular Speculation and SFH Dominion.  I have also been published in the Writer's Bump anthology and received Honorable Mention (Top 10%) in the 2007 L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future Contest.

I feel I have made supreme accomplishments and have become a legend in my own mind (I think I've used that phrase to death, so I must retire it before Clint Eastwood sues me).

I am grateful that C.J. Ellisson saw fit to ask me to join this group. I can always learn something (like how to publish on time and not get bitched out by C.J.).

And, next time, I will not only be on time with the blog, but actually have a good topic to discuss.

Ahem, you can wake up now.  I'm finished.

P.S.:  Oops, fooled you.  I'm still not done.  Hunters was published by the late, lamented Mystic Moon Press, but I still count it as published.

Land of the Blind is very popular with the folks of and Harley Palmer's Writing Academy.  I am polishing it for publishing and am looking at Tor, DAW and Leucrota Press.

I also have works being considered by Far Side of Midnight, Spectacular Speculation and Farscape 3.

And now I will go back to trying to do something I haven't done too well at for the past 30 years -- getting organized.

Thanks for your time and patience.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Who the heck is this C.J. chick?

This week, the Wicked Writers will be blogging about something we know better than anyone else on the planet – ourselves and our books. I helped plan this blog with novelists of multiple genres to enlarge the audience each of us would be able to reach on our own. More and more mainstream books are considered cross-genre these days, and I believe a blog reflecting those trends would be a leap in the right direction.

Sharing information comes second nature to me — I have the gift and curse of gab. It's aided me in a successful career being self-employed for well over a decade. What I know about writing... well, let's just say I learn more each day and I'm grateful for it.

I have an academic background in art and science and a professional background in all things real estate. Art reflects my active imagination, science showcases my fascination with systems and control, and my work life taught me how to sell – a unique combination of interests and skills to bring to writing, to say the least.

One of my best friends and fellow Wicked Writer, Supriya Savkoor, encouraged me one fateful night in January 2009 to put my wild ideas down on paper. She followed up with phone calls and emails – even offered exceptional writing advice to the newly enthralled and ignorant writer that I was. I'd like to say I've retained all the wisdom she shared, but punctuation will forever be my downfall.

What I did do well was take my love of reading fantasy, mystery, suspense, and erotica and weave it into a tale that falls under Urban Fantasy. My book, Vampire Vacation, takes all of these elements and mixes them up with a walk through the world from a powerful ancient vampire's point of view. Vivian's a sarcastic realist who owns a remote Alaskan resort for the undead. When an un-drained corpse is discovered in a locked room, she tries her hand at playing detective while still attempting to manage the vacationing vampires. Sex, mayhem, and intrigue abound and the lush innkeeper struggles to control it all.

I'm happy to report that, so far, the book has gained a pretty loyal following on Facebook. The manuscript is currently out with several agents and has been requested by four publishers. Results from two contests could steer the fate of Vampire Vacation to a publishing contract this month. I'll be sure to keep you all posted on the outcome.

Thanks for stopping by and giving our blog a read. I love hearing and responding to comments from fellow writers and readers – please share your thoughts by clicking on the link at the top of this post!

Friday, January 1, 2010


Today marks the first day of a new decade - and the beginning of a new writer's blog.  Thank you for stopping by and it is our sincere hope that over the next few weeks you'll see something you like that keeps you coming back again and again.

Starting next week we'll have five fabulous writers share their experiences writing, navigating the publishing world, trying to sell their books and where they are on their current writing projects. Next month we'll introduce guest bloggers into the mix and you never know if one of your favorite writers may stop by or a new and upcoming voice that you may want to check out. In addition, we plan on having contests for book giveaways each month as well as the occasional poll to keep readers involved and sharing their thoughts with us.

The dawn of this new year brings hope and potential to all of us here at Wicked Writers and we welcome you on the journey with us.

Thanks again,

Wicked Writers