Category Archives: Opinion

On Providing Useful Critiques…

As Neil Gaiman said: “When people tell you there’s something wrong with a story, they’re almost always right. When they tell what it is that’s wrong and how it can be fixed, they’re almost always wrong.”

Just a gentle reminder for all of us who critique stories. Remember to always begin with the positives before delving into the criticism, and refrain from dictating to the writer how you think they should write their story and how you think their characters should behave.

If that’s the story you want to read, write it yourself. Don’t tell the writer what to do. It’s the writer’s story and the ultimate decisions are up to the writer. Respectfully inform them of what problems you found in the story and offer suggestions. Leave it to the writer to do the work.

I’m reminded of an anecdote shared by actor Lance Henriksen in his autobiography, Not Bad for a Human. While working on Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Henriksen offered an idea to Spielberg that the government team at Devil’s Tower should kidnap one of the small aliens at the end of the film. Spielberg replied: “That’s a different movie, Lance.”

Click here for excellent guidelines on critiquing from The Writer’s Loft. 

 

 

Getting Back on Track

So I recently finished a short story about a young man who buys a haunted Camaro—and inadvertently destroys the life of a paroled car thief. The story is now in the hands of critique partners and happens to be the only writing project that I actually finished this year. If you followed any of my previous updates, you’ll know that 2017 has kicked the shit out of me and in doing so, caused my writing output to plummet. 
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Going into 2017, I promised myself not to write any more short stories this year so I could focus on the first draft of the SF novel I started writing last year. Four chapters into the first draft by April 2016 and the novel ended up on the back burner for a home renovation, a Kickstarter to fund a new anthology, the release of said anthology, and writing six new short stories for contests and anthologies.
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As productive as that was and as proud as I am of those stories, the SF novel languished. Then came 2017 and I set my sights on finishing the first draft by December. Four more chapters were written between January and May… and the novel was again sidelined while I edited submissions to a new anthology, finished a month-long home renovation, then watched my summer collapse along with the roof at my workplace as a result of a severe storm. I want my summer back, damn it!
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So, to get my writing chops back in shape, I cranked out the aforementioned short story about the haunted car—just so I could feel good about finishing something this year.  I thought I would then return to the SF novel…
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Instead, I’ve spent the past week crafting the plot synopsis for my next full-length Miranda Lorensen novel. Almost there. I spent more time working on it in my sunroom this evening—and peeking up every so often to watch a tiny bunny roam around my neighbor’s shed. Who can resist bunnies?
If all goes as planned, this novel will tie directly to the novella that my publisher accepted back in June. The novella, Like Mother, Like Daughters, addresses some aspects of Miranda’s life mentioned in my novels Testing the Prisoner and By Your Side
 
I jotted down a quick jacket blurb for the novella recently. It needs work, but…
 
Psychic-medium Miranda Lorensen and her daughter Andrea set out for a “girls night of ghost hunting” at the home of Andrea’s closest friend, Wendy. When Andrea Lorensen stumbles over Wendy’s dead body in the woods, the shock triggers Andrea’s own latent abilities as a medium. Against her mother’s wishes, Andrea decides to ensnare Wendy’s killer with help from the other side.
Meanwhile, Miranda travels to Salem, Massachusetts to speak at a paranormal investigators conference. When she is invited to participate in a local ghost hunt, Miranda encounters a spirit that leads her to the truth about her past life.
Like Mother Like Daughters title
Now, hopefully, the novella will be released next year with the novel to follow a year or so later. My concern is that as of 2018, it will have been FIVE years since my last novel. Yikes!  
 
During that time, I’ve been focused on short stories and editing anthologies, which has proved fruitful. My publisher and I have released two volumes of the Middle of Eternity speculative fiction series, my work has placed high in a few local contests, and I’ve been published in a handful of other wonderful collections such as the ReDeus mythology series and Beach Nights. I firmly believe that short stories and novellas are nutritious parts of a well-balanced writing career. 
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As much fun as those projects have been, a few solo publications are definitely needed within the next year. While Miranda has earned a modest fan following–and several readers have contacted me to ask when to expect her next adventure–people have short memories these days so I hope all of this works out as planned! 

About This Writing Stuff…

This week, Maggie Doonan counsels us on when to throw in the towel on a writing project while Julia Munroe Martin opens up about why she abandoned one of hers.

Anne R. Allen warns new writers against mistakes that could leave them prey to publishing scams. James Scott Bell offers two methods to jumpstart your writing session. Over at MythCreants, Chris Winkle advises us on ways to better give and receive criticism.

Writer pal Kathryn Craft shares her experiences with exploring and pitching new ideas after her first two novels were published. David Gaughran provides tips on how to maximize the benefits of Kindle Unlimited. From Writer Unboxed, Steven James waxes eloquent about the “agathokakological” nature of humanity.

All that and a little more… Enjoy!

4 Signs It’s Time to Quit a Writing Project by Maggie Doonan

7 New Writer Mistakes that Make You Vulnerable to Predators by Anne R. Allen

What Happens When You Run Out of Novels? by Kathryn Craft via Sandra Hutchison

The Visibility Gambit by David Gaughran

Two Writing Mind Tricks to Get You Rolling  and Weaving Backstory into Frontstory by James Scott Bell

Telling the Truth in Fiction by Steven James

Seven Things I Learned from Wrecking my Novel by Julia Munroe Martin

A Storyteller’s Guide to Criticism by Chris Winkle

Memoir or Fiction? Should You Novelize Your Real Life Experiences? by Anne R. Allen

 

About This Writing Stuff…

My attempt to restore this weekly feature on my blog was thwarted a few months into the year by a series of challenging, distressing, exhilarating, and generally overwhelming events—from editing a new speculative fiction anthology to the death of my mother-in-law, from a six-week home renovation to a partial roof collapse at my place of employment that caused 100-hour work weeks, from caring for a sick bunny (he’s better now, thankfully) to building a new website for one of the small-press publishers I work with.

My bunny, Peanut!
My bunny, Peanut!

Despite such “interesting times,” I managed to write four new chapters in my SF novel-in-progress and hammered out a 7K-word short story just this week. Honestly, that’s paltry progress compared to my usual output, but I’m grateful for anything given the mayhem of 2017—and we still have four months to go!

On a high note, my paranormal mystery novella, Like Mother, Like Daughters, was accepted by Firebringer Press and should be released next year as an eBook, audio book (recorded by yours truly), and in paperback paired up with a vampire novella written by Steven H. Wilson, fellow scribe and owner of Firebringer.

So much about this excites me beyond the obvious thrill of a new release. We plan to produce the paperback in the fashion of the old ACE doubles where you read one novella, then flip the book over read the other. Readers of a certain age (ahem) and older grew up enjoying those and I relish the prospect of producing a book in that format today.

Ace Double Novels

Additionally, the speculative fiction anthology I’m editing is actually volume three in the Middle of Eternity series, also published by Firebringer. This third book, Meanwhile in the Middle of Eternity, is also slated for a 2018 release.

Back on topic, About This Writing Stuff… might end up appearing on a monthly basis rather than weekly as I try to balance my life and catch up on my writing, editing, and publishing schedules, not to mention maintain my health and sanity. Until then, I hope you find the articles below useful.

From Digital Book World, Beth Bacon teaches us about Creative Briefs, while Gordon Warnock urges not to disregard libraries when marketing our books.  Over in the Kill Zone, James Scott Bell talks tough and Jordan Dane wants us to keep it real.

Kristen Lamb and Janice Hardy sub for Jami Gold on her blog with a deep dive into antagonists and conflict.  As an aside, Jami is battling a health issue that she openly discusses on her blog and I want to take a moment to wish her the best.

All that and a little more… enjoy!

How to Write a Creative Brief So Your Graphic Designer Creates an Amazing Book Cover by Beth Bacon

Libraries Gone Digital: 4 Ways Libraries Expand Your Reach as an Author by Gordon Warnock

Conflict: Why It Isn’t Just About Fighting by Janice Hardy via Jami Gold

3 Ways to Add Depth to a Novel by Jody Hedlund

How to Talk Tough by James Scott Bell

How a Professional Editor Can Improve Your Writing by Jim Dempsey via Writer Unboxed

Dialogue: Ten Ways to Make it Real by Jordan Dane


Antagonist Series by Kristen Lamb via Jami Gold

What is an Antagonist?

“He’s His Own Worst Enemy”

What’s Driving Our Story?

Inner and Outer Demons

The End-All-Be-All of Our Story

 

Of Aftermaths, Depression, and the Will to Keep Pushing…

Aside from book reviews and event announcements, I haven’t posted anything of substance on the blog in nearly three weeks. I wish I could point to my typical prodigious writing output as the reason, but alas 2017 has been abysmal relative to previous years.

It’s August and the most fiction I’ve written since January has been four additional chapters in my SF novel and an outline for a new paranormal short story that I just started writing this week. In previous years, I would have been finished with the first draft of the novel long before before now as well as four or five short stories.

Granted, I spent winter and spring editing about 15 submissions for an upcoming anthology and then began working with the three artists who are providing brilliant interior illustrations. That phase of the project is currently well under way as is the cover art. This is the third volume in this anthology series and the last one I’m editing/project managing.

As mentioned in a previous post, this was followed by a six-week home renovation in June that, while successful, severely limited my writing time. Fortunately, the project ended on June 29, right on schedule. After clean-up and reorganizing our house, I had hoped to return to a normal routine and enjoy the remainder of my summer.

Unfortunately, the partial roof collapse at my workplace on July 1 (my birthday) and the subsequent week of round-the-clock effort to restore our IT systems, burned me out and triggered a severe bout of depression. Now, I’ve been battling this demon since I was six years old and have suffered through more severe bouts than I care to remember, but this was one of the worst and it scared the hell out of me.

I’m sure my manager and team mates were even more exhausted than I. Each weekend in July following the calamity was filled with yet more activity to stabilize and restore our environment. We’re still dealing with the aftermath even now. At the risk of sounding selfish, I hope comp time is on the horizon in the near future.

To make matters worse, our rabbit took ill at the end of July with a bladder problem, which caused him to stop eating. This resulted in multiple vet visits and two weeks of force feeding him Critical Care (a food paste) via syringe. We’re still in the midst of dealing with this and praying that the problem does not become life threatening. He has begun eating again, but nowhere near as voraciously as he’s accustomed to.

I’m also nearly finished building a new website for one of my publishers. That’s actually one of the highlights of my summer along with learning that my paranormal novella, Like Mother, Like Daughters was accepted by Firebringer Press and will be published in a format that has me excited. I hope to see that released in 2018. Stay tuned for more info!

On a disappointing note, my submission to the 2017 Rehoboth Beach short story contest was rejected. From Second Place last year to Nothing this year. Such are the highs and lows of the writing life. On the flip side, I look forward to the online publication of another short story later this fall. It’s a paranormal tale set in New Mexico. I’ll post the link here when it’s published.

All told, I’m probably doing better than I think I am, and I know I should not beat myself up over what I perceive as failing in my normal quantity of writing. Life sometimes delivers setbacks and we do the best we can to work through them. I’m excited about the new paranormal short story I just started writing this week. It should be finished in a few days.

My spirit are also lifted by the fact that I have at least two new releases coming next year and of course, the problems that ruined my summer will eventually pass one way or another and allow me to reclaim my writing time.

 

We Have Met the Borg and They are Us!

I’m currently reading Ray Bradbury’s terrific anthology from 1953, The Golden Apples of the Sun.  Among the many engThe Golden Apples of the Sun by Ray Braduryaging tales is a prescient story called “The Murderer,” about a man who, in search of simple peace and quiet, destroys all of his electronic devices in a society where constant chatter from watches, radios, computers, phones, and TV has pervaded—nay, INVADED!—everyday life.

It was stunning to note just how accurate Bradbury was about a future still five decades away. Although the story did not deal with such devices pilfering our privacy, the parallel to society’s current condition was remarkable.

Then this morning, I find this article, from which I quote: “On Black Friday in 2015, hackers broke into the servers of Chinese toymaker VTech and lifted personal information on nearly 5 million parents and more than 6 million children. The data haul included home addresses, names, birth dates, email addresses and passwords. Worse still, it included photographs and chat logs between parents and their children. VTech paid no fine and changed its terms of service to require that customers acknowledge their private data “may be intercepted or later acquired by unauthorized parties.””

Read the entire article here: The Greatest Privacy Threat of All: Our Connected Devices by Vivek Wadhwa

I’ve been employed in the IT support and infrastructure field across several major companies for nearly 25 years. I’m also a die-hard science fiction fan. It’s logical to assume then, that I might be the kind of person who owns every device that hits the market and who spends hours gaming or keeping up with the latest VR tech.

You’d be wrong. In my personal life, I have a MacBook Pro laptop and an iPhone. For my job, I have an additional Dell laptop, HTC Windows phone, and a Surface Pro. Ask me anything about video games and I couldn’t tell you a damn thing. Virtual reality? Couldn’t care less. I’m still grappling with the physical reality of the world in which we live and breathe and eat and pay bills and maintain our homes and—at least for now—interact with the people around us without the “aid” of dehumanizing devices.

I manage my schedule with a day planner. You know, the kind with paper pages on which I write…with a PEN. Same with my novels and short stories. I save reams of scrap paper, printed on one side, that otherwise would have ended up in the trash or recycle. I turn these into notepads and write on them, later to be transcribed into Word or Scrivener.

Smart TV? Not in my house. Same with Alexa and all of these “home management” devices. Fuck them. I can manage my home, my life, and be entertained by my favorite shows without some electronic ear eavesdropping on my every conversation. I see families and friendships fracturing more and more as a result of people unable to peel their gazes and fingers away from their phones and tablets as if these devices have become an extension of their bodies.

You have been assimilated. Resistance wouldn’t be so futile if you actually tried.

Hell, I don’t even own an eReader device of any kind. I have the Kindle app on my laptop, that’s about it. I can count on three fingers how many ebooks I’ve read on it. Of course, I read many Word and PDF files when writers send me their ARCs to read for review, or when I’m critiquing/proofreading stories for writer friends, or accepting submissions to anthologies I’m editing. However, at the risk of sounding like a borderline Luddite, I minimize the use of tech in my personal life for the sake of my own privacy and peace of mind.

Get me outside! To the water with rod and reel, to a nature trail, to the beach where I can sit beneath a canopy on a blazing summer day with a cold drink and a good—physical—book.

OK, enough. Thanks for reading. Now, I’ll jump off the proverbial soap box, or wooden crate, or picnic table, and return to The Golden Apples of the Sun…in paperback…from 1953.