So you can read my books

Tuesday, November 30, 2010


We write.

We strive.

We bleed the ink the page before us has been needing.

And for what?

That answer determines the manner in which we write :

hurried to meet some self-set goal


focused like light through the prism of our soul to cast the lights of our dreams

onto an imagined page some unknown reader will read, becoming lost in our imagined worlds :

"To get the right word in the right place is a rare achievement.

To condense the diffused light of a page of thought into the luminous flash of a single sentence,

is worthy to rank as a prize composition just by itself...

Anybody can have ideas--

the difficulty is to express them without squandering a quire of paper on an idea that ought to be reduced to one glittering paragraph."

- Mark Twain in a letter to Emeline Beach, 10 Feb 1868.

Will we be understood?

Thomas Bailey Aldrich, in a review of Emily Dickinson’s poetry published anonymously in the Atlantic Monthly, January, 1892 :

"But the incoherence and formlessness of her —

I don't know how to designate them — versicles are fatal….

An eccentric, dreamy, half-educated recluse in an out-of-the-way New England village (or anywhere else) cannot with impunity set at defiance the laws of gravitation and grammar."

Whose name is familiar to you : the poet's or the reviewer's?

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all,

- Emily Dickinson

Have you noticed that much of the fiction out there has become more and more stylised, more and more cut off from ordinary feeling?

Is it that so many have come to regard everything in the world around us as fiction.... All the structures in it, flyovers and motorways, office blocks and factories, are all part of this enormous novel.

And since all those around us are mere backdrop in the fiction of our lives, they cease to become living, hurting, feeling individuals.

Ernest Hemingway wrote :

"Writing, at its best, is a lonely life.

Organizations for writers palliate the writer's loneliness, but I doubt if they improve his writing.

He grows in public stature as he sheds his loneliness and often his work deteriorates.

For he does his work alone and if he is a good enough writer he must face eternity, or the lack of it, each day.

You know that fiction is possibly the roughest trade of all in writing.

You do not have the reference, the old important reference.

You have the sheet of blank paper, the pencil, and the obligation to invent truer than things can be true.

You have to take what is not palpable and make it completely palpable and also have it seem normal and so that it can become a part of experience of the person who reads it."

Why do you write?

To touch one human heart?

To impress someone who may not even be alive, or if alive, does not see you as your dreams and soul truly are?

To make the bestseller lists?

To become wealthy and famous? To support yourself comfortably?

To tell the stories that burn to come out and sigh in relief as you type them into being?

Why we write determines how we write and how much pleasure we derive from it/

What do you think?


To be a poet and not know the trade,
To be a lover and repel all women;
Twin ironies by which great saints are made,
The agonizing pincer-jaws of heaven.

—“Sanctity,” by the Irish poet Patrick Kavanagh, who died on this day in 1967;

the poem surfaced in the news when read by Russell Crowe when he accepted his BAFTA award for the movie A Beautiful Mind.

Many of us poured our creative energies into a month-long gauntlet called NaNo.

In that time did we create something worthwhile or just throw together the lumber of our minds in a hodge-podge of slapped together verbs and nouns?

A month is a long time to spend on words that were not distilled and carefully crafted according to a thought-out blueprint. Would you buy a house built without a blueprint?

We write, as Van Gogh painted, with little indication that we will ever be appreciated. He, himself, never felt appreciated in his lifetime. Very few of us who are not published in our lifetimes will ever be "discovered" after our death.

So are we wasting our time?

C. S. Lewis was born on this day in 1898 in Belfast. When young Jack was six, the Lewis family moved to a large house which his father, a solicitor, had built on the outskirts of the city.

In Surprised by Joy, his 1955 autobiography, Lewis describes the new family home as “less a house than a city,” and fertile ground:

"I am a product of long corridors, empty sunlit rooms, upstairs indoor silences, attics explored in solitude, distant noises of gurgling cisterns and pipes, and the noise of wind under the tiles.

Also, of endless books…. There were books in the study, books in the drawing room, books in the cloakroom, books (two deep) in the great bookcases on the landing, books in a bedroom, books piled as high as my shoulder in the cistern attic….

Nothing was forbidden me. In the seemingly endless rainy afternoons I took volume after volume from the shelves. "

Before long, and partly to compensate for having lost his only brother to boarding school, Lewis turned from reader to writer.

At a desk his parents had made for him, in “the little end room” of the attic, he began to write and illustrate stories of “dressed animals and knights-in-armour” — tales of “chivalrous mice and rabbits who rode out in complete mail to kill not giants but cats.”

Soon the knightly bunnies needed a home and a past, and Lewis turned “from romancing to historiography.” He created “Animal-Land,” complete with maps and family sagas, and situated it on an island near the Himalayas, to be proximate to his brother’s India-Land.

"My brother rapidly invented the principal steamship routes" betweeen the two countries; eventually, the two worlds merged into “Boxen,” now published as the Lewis-world that predates Narnia.

Those stories never saw print in his lifetime.

Were they a waste? Are our dreams? I think you know the answer to that.

The pursuit of dreams is never wasted. If the dreams never seem to come to pass, the journey has been one of magic and renewal --

the renewal of that intangible, but essential, human element : our soul. A dream discarded never leaves us. It slowly decomposes in the attic of our being, slowly poisoning our zest for life.

A dream nutured and cherished is to have perpetual Spring in our hearts. We may be Don Quixote, never vanguishing the windmill but somehow the stronger and truer for the effort.

And to end with a nod to an old friend of mine :

Mark Twain's seventieth birthday celebration was held on this day in 1905 at New York’s Delmonico’s Restaurant. One hundred and seventy-five of Twain’s distinguished friends were there, to HEAR WHY HE LIVED SO LONG

(the headline in the NY Times report of the occasion), and to take home a foot-high plaster bust of the author.

In his speech, Twain attributed his health and longevity to several hard-earned (and oft-repeated) principles — "to go to bed when there wasn't anybody left to sit up with," and "never to smoke when asleep, and never to refrain when awake."

Monday, November 29, 2010


"By the Light I would destroy, I can see what I've become."
- DayStar

Every genre sings in its own voice. No two genres begin quite the same way.

A murder mystery has a style distinct from a historical romance. An urban fantasy has a faster tempo than a biography.

Not every novel's melody is a waltz nor is its lyrics always Rap.

"Each to his own," said Lars as he kissed his inflatible doll.

As I finished writing the above, I heard the sharp clatter of ice cubes to my left. I looked around.

Raymond Chandler was sitting in his ghost chair, drinking his ghost whiskey. He nodded to the ghost bottle and an empty ghost glass on the writing table.

I shook my head politely. Ghost hangovers are murder for the living. Don't ask how I know.

"Genre doesn't matter a publisher's promise, kid. When a book, any sort of book, reaches a certain intensity of artistic performance, it becomes literature whatever the genre."

He took a sip of ghost whiskey.

"That intensity may be a matter of style, situation, character, emotional tone, or idea, or half a dozen other things. It may also be a perfection of control over the movement of a story similar to the control a great pitcher has over the ball."

He gazed off into space.

"The readers and the editors think all they care about is the action. They think wrong. They care very little about the action.

The things they really care about, and that I care about and you should care about, are the creation of emotion through dialogue and description."

He gestured with his half-empty glass. "I'll prove my point. Give your friends out there the first paragraphs of your different genre novels.

Oh, sure, they'll start different. But they'll be the same anyway. They'll all have the creation of emotions that touch the reader."

And who am I to argue with a genius? Especially the ghost of a genius.

I started with RITES OF PASSAGE, my fantasy Titanic mystery/romance, narrated by my haunted hero, Samuel McCord.

Since it is set in 1853, I used the stiff formality of the times tempered with the modern sensibilities of today.

And since McCord's adversary in it is the living darkness that billowed over the surface of the deep before creation, I started in epic fashion :

{Before time …
Before light ...
Darkness was upon the face of the deep.
The earth was void and without form.
Then without warning …

The darkness did not comprehend it. But the darkness did not surrender. The darkness is still here. And it wants its home back.}

Chandler knocked on the top of my head as if it were a door.

"Hello! Anybody home? Philosophy's not how you begin a novel even if it is a historical fantasy. A hook. You ever hear of that?"

"Let me show you how to do it. Oh, don't pout. Keep your lovely beginning ... for the second paragraph. Start with this"

His ghost fingers flashed across my keyboard.

{I'm not alive. I'm not dead. What am I?


"There," he gestured with his ghost whiskey glass, splashing intangible liquid on my laptop. "That's how you do it. A good story's not crafted. It's distilled."

I refrained from mentioning how appropriate that was coming from a ghost guzzling whiskey. Never start a fight you can't win. I went on next to my post-Katrina urban fantasy, FRENCH QUARTER NOCTURNE :

{It rained lies and death today.

I stood knee-deep in water outside my French Quarter jazz club, Meilori’s. My soul stretched tight across my chest. Everything I saw and heard in the shadows spoke to me ... in threats.

The sudden, short explosion of an unseen gun. A quick, sharp scream in the distance. And the blue spurt of a lighted match at the far end of the street. My city bled slowly in the ripples of the flooded streets.}

He smiled. "You touched the emotions, made me feel and see what McCord was going through. Good job. Now, show me how your Young Adult novel of new adventures at the same time is different in voice."

I started the beginning paragraph of my YA urban fantasy, THE LEGEND OF VICTOR STANDISH, told through the eyes of a 13 year old boy, repeatedly abandoned by his mother in diferent cities.

He thinks he knows why she does it. He is wrong.

{I was at the wrong end of a dead end alley in the French Quarter. But don't get any romantic images in your head. It was the kind of alley where dreams and runaways go to die.

Which was fitting seeing as how I was going to die there.}

Chandler was sitting there with his eyes closed. "Yes, I can see the difference. McCord's a poet trapped into being a policeman.

This kid's lived on the street, and it shows in the way he looks at the world and himself."

He opened his pale blue eyes. "You written a fable, haven't you? Show me how the beginning sings in a different voice, and I'll buy your little theory."

So I began to type the beginning of THE BEAR WITH TWO SHADOWS, my Native American/Celtic fable :

{The face of shadows looked down upon the standing bear from a bright full moon. Hers was a face that few had seen and fewer still had lived to describe. Her features were terrible and beautiful beyond any singing of them.

There was a haunted melancholy to them. Like a windmill, her memory was slowly turning through the fleeting lives that had been born upon her shores to walk soft across her green fields like prayers only to fade away into the blood smeared edge of the sunset.}

"Not bad," he murmured. "Not great. But definitely it sings in its own voice."

His eyes fixed on me. "Kid, don't you ever begin with action?"

"As a matter of fact," I smiled. "There's the beginning for my YA urban fantasy, LOVE LIKE DEATH."

"My kind of title," laughed Chandler.

And I began writing the first paragraphs :

{The fire blinded me as I stumbled through the smoke, my lungs feeling like they were being cooked. Tears stung my eyes and ran down my face. My fault. All my fault. I didn't know how, but I knew it was all my fault.

It was always my fault.

My foot banged into something metal, and I was hurled forward into the flames in front of me. I hit the burning rubble hard, my palms rubbed raw by trying to stop my fall.

I coughed and coughed until I thought my chest would break open. I blinked my eyes against the layers of hot smoke. A wheelchair. Lilly's wheelchair.

"Oh, God," I choked out through the smoke and fear. "Don't let Webster have killed her, too." }

Chandler frowned. "I did ask for it, didn't I?"

"You have to admit the melody is different."

"Putting a bowtie on a penguin doesn't make him Fred Astaire, kid."

And with that he was gone, but his voice echoed softly all around my head.

"Don't mind me, Roland. Keep your innocence, your gusto for writing. The more you learn of the craft, the more devoid of life writing will appear to you.

If you're not careful, you'll soon know all the tricks and have nothing left in your soul worth saying."

A low laugh sounded above me.

"I like your writing, son. Your characters live in a world gone wrong, a world in which, long before the atom bomb, civilization had created the machinery for its own destruction.

The law is something to be manipulated for profit and power. And the streets are dark with something more than night."

I felt his invisible fingers squeeze my right shoulder. "You'll do, son. You'll do. And so will your friends.

They have heart. All the rest can be learned."

Imagine what this post would have been like if I had sipped any of his ghost whiskey.
And speaking of hearing voices of famous people in your head, here is the beautiful vocalist, Vienna Teng, telling of how she, too, hears the voices of characters in her head. Amalia loved this song of Medea, the tragic, betrayed lover of Jason who takes a terrible revenge.

Vienna talks a bit at the beginning, but stay with this video. Her voice is truly beautiful as is the song which she wrote.
Roland, student of ghosts, here. Raymond Chandler stayed up late most nights, drinking whiskey and writing letters to friends and to those whose letters to him caught his fancy.

Jacques Barzun, the French-born American historian of ideas and culture, was an icon himself, appearing on the cover of TIME magazine.

Barzun wrote of Chandler's letters : "Whether his fiction survives or not, Chandler's letters will be read a long time.

He belongs among the permanent letter writers, being like them a great self-portraitist and, in addition, a fine informal critic. Whoever cares for literature and for human character should read the letters of Raymond Chandler."

"I don't know why the hell I write so many letters," Raymond Chandler once mused to a correspondent. "I guess my mind is just too active for its own good."

There is an excellent volume of selected letters from his huge output. THE SELECTED LETTERS OF RAYMOND CHANDLER {not a new copy ($87) but a used hardback ($3.00)} sold on Amazon

Brought together in this volume are some of the hundreds of letters Chandler wrote-many of them composed during long, insomniac nights.

Chandler commented on all that he saw around him, from his own personal foibles, to the works of his contemporaries Ernest Hemingway and Edmund Wilson, to education, English society, and world events.

Acute, sometimes impassioned, often witty, the Selected Letters of Raymond Chandler contains lively anecdotes of Hollywood,

critical dissections of his fellow writers of detective fiction, lengthy discussions of the art of writing and of his own fiction, and, above all,

amused, sometimes outraged glimpses of the Southern California society that was his inspiration.

Chandler once wrote that "in letters I sometimes seem to have been more penetrating than in any other kind of writing."

But his letters could also be combative, as when he wrote to an editor at the Atlantic that

"when I split an infinitive, God damn it, I intend that it should stay split," or dismissive, as when he said of James M. Cain that "everything he writes smells like a billy goat."

He could also be painfully revealing, as when he wrote of his despair over the death of his wife.

"It was my great and now useless regret," Chandler confessed, "that I never wrote anything really worthy her attention, no book that I could dedicate to her."

Lively, entertaining, and sometimes touching, these letters fully present for the first time the complex sensibilities of a man who was one of America's greatest writers of detective novels, and one of its most astute observers.

Sunday, November 28, 2010


A deep rumbling voice awakened me, "Hey, kid. Kid! Roland!"

Gypsy rowled her "Not another ghost" rowl.

I pried open my eyes. And shot right up.

John D. MacDonald.

Sitting in his ghost chair, spectral smoke trailing up from his pipe into the mists of the night.

"You wrote about me in one of your comments yesterday. It called out to me in the ShadowLands."

His eyes gazed out over my shoulder to realms he looked like he wanted to forget but couldn't.

"I feel pretty much forgotten, son."

"Not to me, sir."

He nodded. "And because of that I wanted to drop by and give you a few pointers on how to write."

He blew out his cheeks. "I wrote THE DAMNED because I knew the locale.

I was interested in what would happen if a lot of people got jammed in the crossing. I knew a lot of things would happen."

He smiled crooked, "And that, son, is the definition of a story."

His smile dropped from his lips like the weight of sin. "I found living it in the ShadowLands is the definition of Hell."

He looked back to me. "Now, for writing characters :

I think that most of us have a greater liking for strong and solid people than we have for the wimps of the world.

With strong people you can tell where you stand. Nobody, of course, is too strong to ever be broken.

And that is my protagonist's, Travis McGee, forte, helping the strong broken ones mend."

He put out a forefinger.

"One, people want to spend time reading about someone they would like to be, doing the things they would love to do if they could.

And getting away with it.

No one wants to pay to be depressed and defeated, Roland. That comes for free in life."

He put out a second finger. "Two, writing is an adventure in and of itself :

I remember when I first started out --

I had four months of terminal leave pay at lieutenant colonel rates starting in September of 1945, ending in January 1946.

I wrote eight hundred thousand words of short stories in those four months, tried to keep thirty of them in the mail at all times, slept about six hours a night and lost twenty pounds.

I finally had to break down and take a job, but then the stories began to sell. I was sustained by a kind of stubborn arrogance.

Those bastards out there had bought one story “Interlude in India,”

and I was going to force them to buy more by making every one of them better than the previous one. I had the nerves of a gambler and an understanding wife."

He looked off into the shadows. "Mostly, an understanding wife."

He turned to me. "I can't find her in the ShadowLands, Roland. And it's killing me."

He sniffed sharp and drew in a breath. "Three, series and first-person narrative. You're doing that with your Sam McCord and Victor Standish series.

Remember a series is only confining if you let it be so. If your imagination is large scope so will be your series.

As for first person narrative -

First-person fiction is restrictive only in that you can’t cheat. The viewpoint must be maintained with flawless precision.

You can’t get into anyone else’s head. The whole world is colored by the prejudices and ignorances of your hero.

He rose and slapped his upper thighs, "If you forget what I've just said, remember this --

If you want to write, you write.

Unlike with brain surgery, the only way to learn to write is by writing. Take Stephen King --

Stephen King always wanted to write and so he writes --

books and fragments and poems and essays and other unclassifiable things, most of them too wretched to ever publish.

Because that is the way it is done.

Because there is no other way to do it. Not one other way.

Compulsive diligence is almost enough. But not quite.

You have to have a taste for words. Gluttony. You have to want to roll in them. You have to read millions of them written by other people.

You read everything with grinding envy or a weary contempt.

You save the most contempt for the people who conceal ineptitude with long words, Germanic sentence structure, obtrusive symbols, and no sense of story, pace, or character.

Then you have to start knowing yourself so well that you begin to know other people. A piece of us is in every person we can ever meet.

Okay, then. Stupendous diligence, plus word-love, plus empathy, and out of that can come, painfully, some objectivity.

Never total objectivity.

It comes so painfully and so slowly.

You send books out into the world and it is very hard to shuck them out of the spirit. They are tangled children, trying to make their way in spite of the handicaps you have imposed on them.

I would give a pretty penny to get them all back home and take one last good swing at every one of them. Page by page. Digging and cleaning, brushing and furbishing. Tidying up.

Are we all together so far?

Diligence, word-lust, empathy equal growing objectivity and then what?
Story. Story. Dammit, story!

Story is something happening to someone you have been led to care about. It can happen in any dimension -physical, mental, spiritual – and in combinations of those dimensions.

Without author intrusion.

Author intrusion is: ‘My God, Mama, look how nice I’m writing!’

Another kind of intrusion is a grotesquerie. Here is one of my favourites, culled from a Big Best Seller of yesteryear: ‘His eyes slid down the front of her dress.’

Author intrusion is a phrase so inept the reader suddenly realizes he is reading, and he backs out of the story. He is shocked back out of the story.

Another author intrusion is the mini-lecture embedded in the story. This is one of my most grievous failings.

An image can be neatly done, be unexpected, and not break the spell. In a story in this book called ‘Trucks,’

Stephen King is writing about a tense scene of waiting in a truck shop, describing the people: ‘He was a salesman and he kept his display bag close to him, like a pet dog that had gone to sleep.’

I find that neat.

Nice. It looks so simple. Just like brain surgery. The knife has an edge. You hold it so. And cut.

The main thing is story.

One is led to care.

Note this. Two of the most difficult areas to write in are humour and the occult. In clumsy hands the humour turns to dirge and the occult turns funny.

But once you know how, you can write in any area.

Write to please yourself. I wrote to please myself. When that happens, you will like the work too.

And with those words, he was gone. His wisdom stayed. I thought I'd pass it on.

Gypsy just wants her undisturbed sleep back.


{"There is a garden in every childhood --

an enchanted place where colors are brighter,

the air softer,

and the morning more fragrant than ever again."

- Elizabeth Lawrence.}

Some have emailed me asking about the mysterious League of Five that I mentioned in the post of a few days ago.

I forget that I have new friends, unfamiliar with my older posts.

So pull up a cyber-chair and let me introduce you to something my mother sparked into being :

You see, the origins of the League of Five stretches back to my childhood.

That league was given birth by :

Mystery and wonder.

They were the seeds from which grew the League of Five.

I've talked about Edith Hamilton's MYTHOLOGY with its stunning illustrations by Steele Savage.

As a child I caught sight of mythic Proteus rising from the wine dark sea,

And heard shadowed Triton blow death from his wreathed horn.

Mythology and fantasy were the mid-wives of the League of Five. And my tales show it.

But I want to speak on what the League of Five taught me ... and what it might teach you :


{Mystery is the siren call for all lovers of fiction. Better to leave out commas than mystery in your tales.}

Its first sentence : "The place was silent and aware."


A desert fortress manned by the dead.

Every French Foreign Legionnaire was standing at his post along the wall. Every man held a rife aimed out at the endless sands. Every man was dead.

Who stood the last dead man up?

That question drove me to check out a book as thick as the Bible.

I remember sitting down that April 1st with my four junior high chums in study hall. They couldn't get over the size of the book. They looked at me like I was crazy. Then, I told them the mystery.

Tommy and Gary snapped up the remaining two copies in the school library. Raymond and B.J. (we called him Beej) had to go to the two different branches of the city library for their copies.

And then, my four friends, sluggish students at best, were racing with me through the pages to discover the solution to the mystery.

But then came stolen jewels and desert danger. We were hooked.

Mid-way through the book, I discovered the classic movie marathon that Saturday was going to show BEAU GESTE, starring Gary Cooper and Ray Milland.

The five of us roughed it that night in front of the TV.

After the movie, we planned on sleeping on the floor of my front room. It would be like we were French Foreign Legionnaires on a mission.

We were enthralled. We booed the bad guys. We cheered on Gary Cooper. And we sniffed back embarassing tears when he died.

But with the mystery solved, my four friends didn't want to go on.

The solution fizzled the fun of the reading. We all moped. A throat was cleared. We turned around.

Mother sat with a leather-bound volume in her hands, and with her voice blessed with the magic of the Lakota Storyteller and the lyrical beauty of the Celtic bard, she smiled,

"Let me read you five something --



{And he will keep your readers' interest up high -- so no lukewarm antagonists. Think epic. Think primal.}

Mother, in her rich, deep voice, read low like distant thunder :

"Imagine a person, tall, lean and feline,

high-shouldered, with a brow like Shakespeare and a face like Satan,

a close-shaven skull, and long, magnetic eyes of true cat-green.

Invest him with all the cruel cunning of an entire Eastern race, accumulated in one giant intellect, with all the resources of science past and present, with all the resources, if you will, of a wealthy government--

which, however, already has denied all knowledge of his existence.

Imagine that awful being, and you have a mental picture of Dr. Fu-Manchu, the yellow peril incarnate in one man."

She put down the book on her lap and intoned, "That, young men, is the insidious Dr. Fu Manchu. Do you want to hear more?"

Man, did we! And so the League of Five was born.

For every Saturday night for the rest of that year and all through my last year of junior high, we sat cross-legged on the front room floor and listened to all thirteen of the Fu Manchu novels ...

along with the adventures of Sherlock Holmes, starting with "The Adventure of the Speckled Band." I never went to sleep after that without looking at my headboard!


{Instill that truth into your tale, and it will intensify the fragility of the human body and the enduring courage of its spirit.

And if it teaches your readers to hold gently and gratefully the love they find, so much the better.}

Unknown to us, Mother was teaching us the value of a mind that thought beneath the surface, that grew stronger with use as with any muscle.

We made special nights of it when the classic movie marathon played any Sherlock Holmes or Dr. Fu Manchu movie. Flash Gordon with Ming the Merciless was great. It was like seeing Fu Manchu in a space opera.

But the seasons pulled us apart to different cities, to different high schools, to different destinations.

Fatal car accident. War. Disease. Mugger's bullet.

Until now, only I remain of the League of Five.

But every April 1st, in the late evening hours, I sit down and pull BEAU GESTE from the shelf. I read aloud the words, "The place was silent and aware."

And no matter the room I find myself ...

it is silent ...

and it is aware.

I see five wide-eyed boys, their eyes gleaming with wonder and awe, listening once more to my mother reading into the wee hours of the morning,

her voice a beacon in the darkness of our imaginations.

I pull down my worn copy of THE INSIDIOUS DR. FU MANCHU and turn to chapter two with Sir Denis Nayland Smith's description of his adversary.

After a few moments, the words blur. But that is all right. I know the words by heart.

What novel meant so much to you that you just had to share it with a friend or friends? Tell me. I'd like to know.

Compare it to what you are writing now. Did it have any effect on your style or genre of writing? Please write me on that, too.

This is a new movie that the League of Five would watch next year were it still whole, all of us nudging the other with our elbows as if children again :

Saturday, November 27, 2010


The Lakota knew :

to the seeing eye, magic was everywhere.

Each person is Legion : made of many people, all struggling for dominance. We writers even more so than most.

Can you see the hero, Don Quixote, or Cervantes in that legendary tale? It all depends how you look.

Life. Death. We can see both, depending if we squint or not.

Do we swallow camels, while choking on gnats?

Is the obvious truly that? Or is life more complex than we believe?

I think Angelina is beautiful, you all know that. Her humanitarian efforts on behalf of the world's children touches my Lakota spirit.

Then, I discovered Angelina Jolie hates Thanksgiving

and wants no part in rewriting history like so many other Americans.

A friend of hers says, “To celebrate what the white settlers did to the native Indians, the domination of one culture over another, just isn’t her style.

She definitely doesn’t want to teach her multi-cultural family how to celebrate a story of murder.”

According to some sources, Angelina Jolie is so disgusted by "Thanksgiving", she takes her kids out of the country so they are not around the madness that is embodied in the holiday.

Does Angelina Jolie have a point, or has she completely missed the point of having a holiday just to remind us to be grateful for the blessings in our lives? What do you think?


To Sing Life Into Being.

My half-Lakota mother would take me on long walks at night,

pointing to the stars and telling me tales

of long ago when life was blinking-eye fresh

and animals could talk.

She would always start those walks by pointing to the many-eyed blanket of night and say,

"The Great Mystery sang those stars to life, Little One. What words do you suppose He used?"

Perhaps that is why we sing life into being with our prose --

we carry that need to create we inherited from He whose song
spoke us to life.

Words. It all comes down to the Word.

In the beginning was the Word.

Lucky for the universe God didn't need an agent to get his Word to see the Light.

But none of us is God. We don't have the job qualifications.

Not being Deity, you and I have to get an agent.

Of course, there are vanity publishers. But they're called vanity publishers for a reason. Basically, it's like paying for a kiss. It means very little.

And less to major publishers if you refer to being published by them. The big boys all know you paid to get published.

And it only means something when they pay you for it.

In a sad sidebar, that truth is why some hopeless women on the hard streets feel they have worth.

Men pay for them.


"If you build it, he will come."

And the same is true for us as writers.

An agent will not come because I'm a nice guy.

She will not come because I'm a writer with a great idea.

She will not come because I beg. {Although I have to admit, I've been tempted to do that.}

She will not come because I have great promise.


The agent will come when I build something real for her to appear for :

A novel that is finished,

that is riveting from the very first sentence,

that grabs the reader and will not let her go,

that finishes with a resolved crisis and growth for the main character, hinted at in the very first chapter.

But more :

she will come when I have already built a platform from which she can stand,

from which a publisher can view potential sales, from which they can compute the possible profit in it for them to buy my novel.

That is something she can use in the ways she knows best,

taking a finished novel with existing interest.

With that she can go to the editors, persuading them into a better financial deal than we could have dreamed.

Until that happens, there is no need for an agent. Lusting for one is even a distraction. A distraction from what, you say?

From crafting that polished," draw-you-in-with-the-first-sentence" novel.

But the novel is not enough, you must also have a platform. Get your name out there.

Twitter. Ah, I am not comfortable with it. But many are.

Listen to others on it. Learn how NOT to hawk yourself.

Facebook has problems. But set up an account for later.

Be prepared.

Do what you're doing now:

Write an interesting, absorbing blog. Be the best you on that blog you can be.

Go with your strengths. If you're funny, make 'em laugh.

If you're wise {me, I'm otherwise},

then share what you have freely and compassionately.

Go to others' blogs. You see something there that is useful or fun or both, direct your readers to that blog.

Have the back of your fellow blogger. Maybe they'll have your back in return.

If not, you still have the good feeling inside that being decent and kind gives you.

Google on how to write queries. I've written a couple of decent posts on how to do that. Other bloggers have as well.

Now, go to and find agents for your genre.

Go to Preditors and Editors and see if there are any red flags to their names.

Go to Absolute Write Water Cooler : and see what fellow writers think of your targeted agent.

Write the shortest, most interest-grabbing query you can.

I've written a few posts on how to do that.

Google will show you others. Now, write that query. Show it to a few fellow writers you trust.

Then, throw your note in a cyber bottle out into the sea. Throw ten notes.

And if three request a partial or a full, send them. Also tell those requesting agents about the interest of the other two.

Is that honest? Yes. Is that wise? It's human nature wise.

Guys want a girl that other guys want. It's human nature.

Finding out other agents are interested in you makes you seem more attractive to that agent reading your reply.

Be professional, of course, in how you state it. State it as a courtesy to them.

Agents who read this may sputter. But I'm not writing this for them. I writing this for you to have the best shot at getting an agent.

Oh, and when you get your agent, and she sells your novel, her next question will be :

"What are you working on next?"

Be prepared for that with a polished proposal.

{I have one prepared for the sequel to THE LEGEND OF VICTOR STANDISH : VICTOR IS NOT JUST MY NAME.}

Let her know that you are professional and not a one-shot wonder.

Understand that there is a melody playing inside her head as she looks at you :

"What do you have for me that will make me more money?"

Your goal is to write, sell, repeat. Enjoy the journey ...

and the friends you make along the way.

Like Spenser says, "It is what it is."
And please give your spirit and heart a present and watch and listen to this :

Friday, November 26, 2010



Victor has been spotted with his ghoul friend, Alice, at MUSINGS OF A PALIINDROME : }

Good guys are boring?," I asked some days back.

Nickie, my co-worker, nodded sagely. "Yep. Boooooring."

We'd been talking my disenchantment with Sookie in the TRUE BLOOD novels.

Bill, her first lover, had suffered near death twice for her, but she is attracked to sociopath vampire, Eric.

"Vampire Bill is boring while Eric is just bad and sexy."

"Uh, he tore apart a guy who was just trying to escape being chained in his cellar.

And then, he got upset when the man's blood ruined his hair's highlighting."

Nickie giggled, "That was so cute."

"What if the guy had been your kid brother? Still cute?"

"Oh that guy was a jerk. He had it coming."

"And the two little children Eric looked down as munchies toward the end of season two? Did they have it coming?"

"Oh, you're as boring as vampire Bill." And Nickie hurried off to try saving LEGEND OF THE SEEKER.

Our conversation got me thinking on how difficult it is to write a non-boring hero or heroine. But being good boring?

Earl Warren, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, once wrote : Everything I did in my life that was worthwhile, I caught hell for.

I don't know about you, but that's pretty much how it's been for me.

So Niki and actors who moan that good guys are boring don't really mean boring in the obvious sense.

As writers we have to look at heroes through the reader's eyes. And what do they want of their heroes?

To live vicariously through them.

And who wants to suffer through routine living second-hand? We get enough of that up close and personal.

Our failure with heroes is that we make them routine.

What do the readers want from the hero of the novel they're reading?

To live dangerously and to have fun through them by :

Dialogue :

How often have you been stung in a situation, only to come up with the perfect comeback HOURS after the fact?

Think CON-AIR when

Cameron Poe says to agent Larkin :

"Sorry boss, but there's only two men I trust. One of them's me. The other's not you."

Or with Robert B. Parker when Spenser says :

"...You have any suggestions, make them. I'm in charge but humble. No need to salute when you see me."

Fraser said, "Mind if we snicker every once in a while behind your back?"
"Hell, no," I said. "Everyone else does."

— Robert B. Parker (The Widening Gyre)

Or when Spenser walks into a TV station's boardroom to see three lawyers sitting on a couch beside one another.

"Which one of you speaks no evil?," I asked. (A Savage Place)

{Side-bar} :

University professor turned writer, Robert B. Parker, had thought-provoking things to say about writers, literature, and life :

“It was not just that Ross Macdonald taught us how to write;

he did something much more, he taught us how to read, and how to think about life, and maybe, in some small, but mattering way, how to live.”

"Being a professor and working are not the same thing. The academic community is composed largely of nitwits.

If I may generalize. People who don't know very much about what matters very much, who view life through literature rather than the other way around.”

“The advantage of writing a series is that it probably replicates,

for lack of a better word, real life more than most fiction

because most people have a history and know people and come and go and you have a chance to play with the characters and not just the protagonist.

It gives you the opportunity to develop--

lapsing back into academe for a moment--a whole fictive world. Gee, I love saying that now, just keeping my hand in. Fictive world!.”

"I sit down every day and write five pages on my computer.

At some point I found that not outlining worked better than outlining. The outline had become something of a limitation more than it was a support.

When I did the Raymond Chandler book, Poodle Springs, which was in the late eighties, I was trying to do it as Chandler did it,

and since Chandler didn't outline then I thought I won't outline.

If you read Chandler closely you can see that he didn't outline. What the hell happened to that chauffeur in THE BIG SLEEP?

I would recommend to the beginning writer that they should outline because they probably don't have enough self-confidence yet.

But I've been writing now since 1971 and I know that I can think it up. I know it will come."

"It's tempting to say the Ph.D. didn't have an effect, but it's not so. I think whatever resonance I may be able to achieve is in part simply from the amount of reading and learning that I acquired along the way."

But I digress ...

What, besides saying snappy dialogue, do readers want to do through their heroes?

To do the extraordinary.

Even if it is in ordinary circumstances. Spit in the eye of the bully. Tweak the nose of a snobbish boss.

Take this scenario :

A tired stone mason sits at a bar run by one of his few friends. Another man sits down beside him. He never looks at our hero, but he pushes a thick manila envelope over to him.

He whispers, "Ten thousand now. Ten thousand after she's dead."

He gets up and slowly walks away. Our hero hurriedly opens the envelope. Sure enough there is the money. And a blown-up photo of a woman from her driver's license.

Our hero gets up to follow the man to see if he can get the license plate number of his car to give to the police. The man is already outside -- getting into a police car.

What does our hero do? What would you do? And so starts the Dean Koontz novel, THE GOOD GUY. (Hey, the title even fits in with my own title of this post.)

There is a hero inside all of us ... if we only know where to look. There is a magentism to your hero of your novel ... if you know where to look. And where is that?

In your heart, friend. In your heart.
And in the spirit of this post and the holidays :

Thursday, November 25, 2010


The Icarus Wind.

It's a lovely song by the equally lovely {and evocative} Thea Gilmore.

The Icarus Wind is also the spirit which sweeps us up

and hurls us into the misty clouds where our dreams live.

It is a dangerous realm. There is no promise of success.

And there is no safety net to catch us should we fall.

Yesterday's post conjured images of absent friends. Many of those friends were customers of my bookstore.

Yes, I owned a bookstore for a time.

I needed an understanding boss who would allow me to accompany my mother on her distant trips for chemotherapy and radiation treatments.

For myself, I figured I could be pretty damn understanding.

So I emptied my savings, and with the added financial help of two good friends, I started my bookstore.

I had not thought of sales as a way to make a living. But luckily, the people coming in pretty much knew what they wanted.

After coming in for awhile, they knew I wasn't going to hard-sell them anything. I got to know them and pointed out things I thought they'd like. I was usually right.

And it's come to me that once again, as with my bookstore, I am back in sales ... in a sense. But only in a sense. Like in my bookstore, I have to get to know my customer {potential agent.} I have to learn her likes and dislikes.

But unlike my bookstore, the agent hasn't gotten to know the wonderfulness of myself. No. I'm coming in cold.

In another sense, I'm also coming in hot : no time to build up trust or to ratchet-up the tension.

Like a space shuttle without fuel, I'm flying like a razor through the cyber-void. I have seconds, ten seconds if conventional wisdom is correct, to win the agent's interested attention.

That's not much time to hit a home run.

To follow the trajectory of the baseball analogy, I have to quickly present a winning ...


Line Drive.

Home Run.

Think : Speed. Focus. And ... out of the ball park!

My target agent is eye-weary, computer numb, and conditioned by thousands of terrible queries to expect yet another boring turkey.

I have to flash a surprise crack of the bat and get her attention. I'll use my 90,000 word urban fantasy, FRENCH QUARTER NOCTURNE, for an example {Yeah, what a surprise, right?} :

A man who no longer believes in God must fight a being who believes himself the Devil.

Doubt. Faith. Death. All three collide in Post-Katrina New Orleans where the dying of the lights bring out the predators from both sides of the darkness.

In post-Katrina New Orleans, an undead Texas Ranger battles inept politicians, Russian mobsters, and DayStar, a being with god-like powers.

Helped by his best friend, a vampire priest, the Ranger faces mounting opposition from all corners of the supernatural realm, all eager to take advantage of the chaos following the hurricane.

And in the wings watching the Ranger get weaker and weaker, DayStar sets his last trap for his hated enemy into motion.


Post Script :

Many times we writers don't even get the opportunity to audition for the agent. We get the intern.

Imagine getting your X-ray read. As you hand it in to the desk, you ask, "The doctor will read this, right?"

"No, the intern will."

"She's trained in reading X-Rays?"

"No education. No salary even. But she's optimistic and hopeful."

"Yeah, well that makes one of us."

"Oh, it's always been this way. That's just the way the system works."

"Yeah, they told Lincoln the same thing about slavery."

"Oh, so the intern's been complaining about having to re-arrange the agent's bookshelf, has she?"

"No, I haven't talked to her. So she has to re-arrange the agent's books, too? Where does she find the time to grovel?"

"Oh, there's always time to grovel."

"Words to live by," I smile and walk out the door.
Post script II :

The really great news? You know what the success ratio for a super-star agent is? 50%.


Or not so ouch. It takes the pressure off. It is what it is.

We try our best and enjoy the journey. Our destination will be what it will be.


Here's the music video of Thea singing "The Icarus Wind."


Yes, Andrea Somberg rejected FRENCH QUARTER NOCTURNE last night.

I've read it again as a creative writing teacher, finding it a haunting, evocative urban fantasy with action and humor.

But I am prejudiced.

Yet this is Thanksgiving. And there is much to find to be thankful for in even this rejection.

"Adversity is like a strong wind. It tears away from us all but the things that cannot be torn, so that we see ourselves as we really are."

- Arthur Golden

Mr. Golden is the author of MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA. In that novel, he has a passage that translates well to our dealing with rejection and waiting for an agent to accept us :

“From this experience I understood the danger of focusing only on what isn't there.

What if I came to the end of my life and realized that I'd spent every day watching for a man who would never come to me? What an unbearable sorrow it would be, to realize I'd never really tasted the things I'd eaten, or seen the places I'd been, because I'd thought of nothing but the Chairman even while my life was drifting away from me.

And yet if I drew my thoughts back from him, what life would I have? I would be like a dancer who had practiced since childhood for a performance she would never give.”

The answer to me is that each day we dance. Perhaps not to the tune we would wish but to a melody circumstances demand of us. And sometimes it is very hard to keep from tripping over our own feet.

Let's think through rejections and see what they might mean :

1) You write badly.

Ouch. But often we get carried away with the Zen of writing, typing in the moment without a thought of how to be precise with our verbal blows. Sloppy writing is rejected writing.

*) Solution?

Go to the internet or the bookstore or the library. Take books by Hemingway, Chandler, Koonz, King, Updike, Vidal, and Bellows. Read a chapter from each one. Study their use of specific words. How did they space their paragraphs? How did they convey emotion? { With dialogue, with detail, with what wasn't said?}

See if you can improve on a paragraph picked at random with eyes closed and stabbing forefinger. Can't? Welcome to the club. Can? Then you've grown more than the writer you were before the rejection.

2) You plot with all the grace of a plodding horse with blinders :

All too often we start with the burst of a scene or of an opening hook. But we have no sense of direction or a map of where we take our hero. Is it a journey that would entice a reader? Why? Where is the driving momentum that keeps the reader flipping the pages hurriedly?

*) Solution?

Take those same books you've bought or borrowed, looking for the map of their story. How? Look at the jacket blurbs. Read the summations on the jacket flap. See the primal drives? See them being blocked? See the primal dangers? Read the first chapters. Read the last ones. Compare the two. How did the hero change? How did his/her world change? Read the first paragraph. Read the last. See the novel's bookends of thought and transformation?

3) Cliche is your first, middle, and last name :

Cliches can creep up on us. If you ever catch yourself writing "like white on rice," lick your forefinger and stick it into a live socket. That's what the agent reading those words wants to do with you.

Scum layers the top of the lake. The true game fish swirl around deep at the bottom. So it is with the imagination. We want to be writers. Do we want to be deep-sea explorers? If we want to be offered representation by an agent, we do.

*) Solution?

Read the jacket blurbs again. Sound familiar? Yes, because the plots started out as original but have been copied and copied by TV and Hollywood until the stories are familair. Throw a what if in your thinking. What if the hitman of your novel is different somehow?

How? Twist the plot on its ear. Your hitman is from the future. Why would someone travel from the future to kill people?

One reason : he hates his life, his world, and the girl who jilted him. So he is off killing his great-grandparents, those of his world's greatest leaders, and those of his girl.

Up the ante : he falls in love with his own great-grandmother. Whoops. He becomes a bad joke. The punchline : his own father arrives from the future to kill him. And it turns out that he's not all that wild about his own life up the time stream either. And he wants the hitman's new girl for himself.

4) Nothing is wrong with your novel. You're just one query in a sea of millions of them. You just didn't wow the agent enough to impress her. Or she was too tired or too caught up with the flow of rejecting every email in front of her. You query boat just got swamped in the storm of submissions.

*) Solution?

You do all of the above. You strive to grow each writing day into becoming a better author. You keep on submitting.

5) You weren't a good fit for that particular agent.

You failed to your due diligence. Or you did, and their website hasn't been updated to accurately reflect the changes in their editorial attitude.

*) Solution?

You find more about the next agent before you query. Google not just webpages, agent query, or absolute write water cooler -- you type in the agent's name and follow with "interviews." Read as many interviews with that agent as possible. You type in "blogs." Read the last ten posts of that agent's blog. Go the archive of her blog. Read the titles of her posts to see if there are any that speak to what you've written.

6) You asked for it :

Yes, you did. Me, too. How? We became writers. The day we started down that path, we agreed to pay the toll at the gate. The toll? Getting rejected more times than we get accepted. Knowing that there is no promise that we ever will get accepted.

*) Solution?

Be Cortez. When Cortez landed on the shores of the New World, he caught his men eyeing the ships and the horizon leading home.

He burned the ships.

We have to burn the ship. No retreat. No surrender. Only advance. Stumble. Fall. Get up. Walk on. Hack our way through the agent jungle.

Never surrender. Never give up. Only grow stronger. Grow better. Grow wiser.

Oh, and every now and then, bend down and give the person who's fallen along the way a hand back on his/her feet. Wink, smile, and say, "Hell of a trip, ain't it? Let's get her done."

And never tell me the odds. :

{My favorite scene from STAR WARS}

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


How to get an agent to say "Yes."

Not that I have gotten one to say "Yes," mind you.

But like you, I have wondered at the answer to that question

My best friend, Sandra, jokingly suggests at gunpoint.

I remind her gently that I want to be published not imprisoned.

How do you get an agent to say "Yes?"

You do it by asking yourself a similar question I ask myself with these posts :

"What would I like to read"

"What does an agent want to read in your query?"

How do you get a "yes" from an agent?

Accept that the publishing world is what it is with its own facts of life :

The agent wants to make a good living.

If she was satisfied with minimum wage, she'd be flipping burgers. This current controversy over hourly rates and reading fees underscores this fact of life.

In retail, you make money by selling high to lots of customers.

To do that, you must have a hot product. Right now, supernatural romances are sizzling.

Trends fade you say. True. But basic needs stay the same. Appeal to them, and you have the interest of your readers.

Customers (agents and readers) want the same thing ... only different.

How do you do that? Appeal to a basic need in a novel way. Think oxymoron.

A comedy on death row. A drama in clown school. A ghost afraid of people forced to haunt a bustling Las Vegas casino.

Stephanie Meyers saw the basic need of teenage girls :

romance with a bad boy (who usually wants sex not romance.) Her answer : a love-smitten vampire who can't get close lest he bite the love of his unlife.

Pavlov was right. Woof.

Think weary, jaded agent.

If 499 out of every 500 queries she gets are garbage, guess what she'll smell when she opens yours?

It's the Pavlov effect.

Now if you get a great agent, you'll also get the blessing of the Halo effect.

If every one of the agent's offerings to a particular editor has had solid sales, he'll see "winner" when he sees your name.

But back to the dreaded Pavlov effect which leads us to :

What you expect to see, you usually see.

Give an idiot a hammer, and everything begins to look like a nail. How do you fight it?

A right hook will get them every time. But how do you do that?

As with a right hook in a fist fight, it has to be fast and surprising. Which means for you : the title.

Think : SNAKES ON A PLANE. Admit it. You were tempted to see the movie just because of the title.


{A young werewolf girl is following the bad boy of her dreams on a plane in the dark of the moon. She's safe, right?

Wrong. Unknown to her, for werewolves to be high in the sky no matter the moon phase is to turn at nightfall. Oops.}

Tagline : On this flight, first class is murder.

The twist : up high in the sky, she can be killed by the one she loves and who loves her. Lump in the throat ending :

mortally wounded boy kills girl-wolf, both becoming ghosts destined to fly the haunted skies forever.

Yes, this is an over-the-top example for laughs. But you see my point.

Follow through is everything in winning fights ... and in winning agents.

The tagline followed by a short O Henry flip of expectations in a paragraph summation will win or lose you the agent.

LEFT HAND OF GOD : The life of a jaded atheist depends upon him convincing a small church in war-torn China that he is a priest. {A classic Humphrey Bogart movie.}

Artists starve. Craftsmen order steak.

You have to decide if you want to be published or you want to write what you want to write.

Emily Dickinson chose the later : she had three poems published in her lifetime. You know the sound of one hand clapping? That was the applause she got for them.

I have made the Emily Dickinson decision. I will probably never be published. My decision.

I, however, would like to see you get your dreams fulfilled.

Write the way you know will sell.

Patrick Stewart was a spear-carrier on the Shakespearian stage in his early career. After STAR TREK and the stellar (pun intended) name recognition, Mr. Stewart can play in any major Shakespearean theater company he wishes.

Robert B. Parker loved Westerns.

He could't give any away. He became the new Raymond Chandler, and his Westerns were snapped up, becoming best sellers. One book was even made into a top-grossing movie. That is a miracle in today's Hollywood.

Earning your spurs isn't just for roosters.

Refer to the stories of Patrick Stewart and Robert B. Parker.

You must prove your worth to the agent in getting her desired high commissions and to the publishers, wanting to garner a high return for their investment in you.

If you want to get "yes" from an agent, use these suggestions ... or Sandra's gun. My way is safer. Good luck.
I am currently editing my YA urban fantasy, THE LEGEND OF VICTOR STANDISH. And my theme song for him (in my mind) is this melody :



You haven't the slightest idea of what I'm talking about do you, vampire?

Don't feel bad. Neither do the living. Humanity.

Its very meaning has long since slipped beneath the surface of the noise. The noise of words, whose meanings lose clarity with every passing year."

- Samuel McCord.

The world is too much with us. We get sidetracked by the surface.

Like Catherine the Great who said of some shallow fellow, "Unfortunately, I could not keep from listening to him. He was as handsome as the dawn."



Key elements in our novels. Without the one, we cannot communicate. Without the other, we cannot create a novel about which a reader would care.

Think about the fiction you like to read the most. I bet it has conflict, danger, loss, and humor. The essence of what it means to be human.

One cliche says to write about what you know. And, yes, in a way that is true.

Write about being human. We all know the heartache of being human in an inhumane world.

Write about those subjects and people about which you care deeply.

Your words will ring true. And your readers will start to care about your characters and their conflicts.

How can you get your reader to care about your novel's conflicts?

Raise the stakes.

Loss of a job. That smarts. But loss of a job as a hitman by being terminated yourself. That's primal.

Throw roadblocks in the way.

Cancel his passport. Have the government freeze his bank accounts. Get his wife and best friend, who have been having an affair, decide to do the job themselves.

Throw him a bone.

A rival mob boss wants to help. For a price.

Just kill the mobster's beautiful, connected wife. If any of the mobster's hitmen kill the wife, his in-laws will put a hit out on him.

But if the hitman from the rival gang does it, no one will suspect. He doesn't have much choice so he agrees -- only to fall in love with the beautiful wife.

Now what? That very question is what you have the reader asking as he hurriedly turns the pages. But still just another thriller.

Change the mix.

Up the ante to the max.

The hitman works for the C.I.A.

The man with the beautiful, connected wife is the President of the United States.

The beautiful wife's connection is to the Israeli Mossad.

And the hitman doesn't know if the President's wife loves him or is using him. Now, the pages are being turned in a blur by your readers.

Primal stakes. High profile characters. Love. Betrayal. Doubt. Triumph.

Don't forget that last. That last will prompt good word of mouth. And good word of mouth leads to high sales.

Think of the four most beloved novels you've read. Look back at what I've written. Those same undercurrents run through them all. Have them run through the novel you're writing now.

I want to see your name on the bestseller's list.

After mine, of course. Just joking. There are enough readers out there for everyone.
I have a resource text for you.

READING PEOPLE by Jo-Ellen Dimitrius, Ph.D.

Her chapter "Scanning the Environment" alone makes this a great book for writers. It's a great help in telling your reader what kind of person your character is just by a few details of their home.

If her name rings a bell, it may be because she's been on Oprah, Larry King Live, and 60 Minutes, among other television shows.

Much more than a collection of tips on reading body language,

her book is supremely organized, detailed, and thorough, with lists of physical characteristics, vocal patterns, office props, and conversational behaviors that reveal much more than you'd think.

She instructs on how to analyze hundreds of details of everyday living,

from the style of the picture frame on your boss's desk to the odd way that an acquaintance swears up a storm,

in order to uncover personality traits and predict future behavior.

Demitrius isn't a hocus-pocus intuition hawker;

she's more of a scientist. "...over the past fifteen years," she writes, "I have tested this method on more than ten thousand 'research subjects.'

After predicting the behavior of thousands of jurors, witnesses, lawyers, and judges, I have been able to see whether my predictions came true."

Dimitrius advocates sharpening and fine-tuning powers of observation and deduction. Gathering enough information to establish an overall pattern is the key to her method.

Differentiating between "elective and nonelective" traits;

setting aside assumptions, prejudices and stereotypes; recognizing body language;

and identifying meanings behind personal choices of dress and behavior.

And cooler than the other side of the pillow is that a used hardcover can be gotten at Amazon for just a penny.

And the only compensation I will receive if you buy this book is the smile I'll have when you write me that the book was a help in your writing :

And now for another stirring movie trailer for our muse :

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


How to win.

No. Sorry to disappoint you. I don't have the secret.

Discouragement. That I have. In abundance.

I shouldn't.

I walked into becoming a published author with my eyes wide open. And even if I didn't, I had a crash course in it every time someone asked what I was writing.

"A writer? Oh, wow. That's neat. Where can I buy your books?"

The look in their eyes when I tell them nowhere yet says it all. Dreamer. Wanna be. No talent.

I bet you had the same exchange with friends and relatives. What did Mark Twain write? "Everyone is a crackpot until he succeeds."

Let's face it. When you set out to be published, you've guaranteed yourself a lot of pain.

But is that any different from an Olympic hopeful, a want-to-be NBA player? Success is promised no one. Failure if we do not try is certain. And a gnawing, forever doubt will haunt us all our days if we turn our backs on our dreams.

We are creative. It is who we are. We have to write. Period. The end.

We are not defined by our failures. We are defined by what we have learned from them. Janet Reid, the literary agent, has a great blog :

Periodically she posts tallies of her replies to incoming queries. On the last day of last year, she posted an array of statistics that hopeful authors could torture themselves with :

She started keeping notes sometime this summer. Between that date and today, she requested 124 full novels.

Here's what happened:

Just plain not good enough: 21 (a novel needs to be in the 99th percentile-these were closer to 90%--not bad, but not good enough)

Good premise, but the rest of the novel didn't hold up: 11

Not compelling or vivid, or focused; no plot/tension: 10

Slow start or the pace was too slow: 9

I didn't believe the narrative voice: 5

Structural problems with the novel: 8

Interesting premise, but not a fresh or new take on familiar plots/tropes: 7

Had caricatures rather than characters: 2
Boring: 3
Grossed me out: 2
Major plot problems: 2

Needed more polish and editorial input than I wanted to do: 2

Good books but I couldn't figure out where to sell them: 7

Got offer elsewhere; I withdrew from scrum: 2

Great writing, just not right for me: 2

Not right for me, refer to other agents: 9

Not quite there/send me the next one: 1

Sent back for revisions with editorial suggestions and I expect to see them again in 2011: 9

Getting second read at FPLM: 1

Got offer from me: 2

(the rest fall into the miscellaneous category of problems too specific to list here)
How do you win? With truth. And what is the truth we can find in Janet Reid's statistics?

It's not you. It's not that you are not cut out for this writing business. It's not your inability to get it.

It's just a problem to be solved.

You have a head. You have intelligence. You have perseverance {or you wouldn't have stuck with me this long.} Your query or your novel simply has a writing problem to be fixed.

Look at Janet's list above and study your novel, holding her reasons for rejections next to your manuscript.

Every carpenter needs a level. Use Janet's list as your level. You'll spot something in your creation that needs a bit of fixing.

Roll up your sleeves and start fixing. You win by getting back up and fixing that flat on your manuscript vehicle. It won't fix itself. But you have creativity and a dream. You can do this.

Difficulties are there to spark creativity not defeat.

You want the formula for success?

It's quite simple really. Double your rate of failure. Hold on. Stay with me here.

You're thinking of failure as the enemy of success. It is its tutor.

You can be defeated by failure or learn from it. Go ahead. Make mistakes. Make lots of them.

Each one is a lesson learned. And success? It's waiting for you at the graduation ceremony.

I had a friend with useless legs and a near useless left arm. He went about in a motorized wheelchair. And I cringed going out with him.

Not because of his handicap -- but because of his optimism.

He would literally ask every girl we met out. Waitress. Nurse. Pretty blonde in the same elevator. EVERY girl. It drove me crazy.

"Steve!," I finally moaned, after the flustered waitress left our table, having been asked out by a total stranger in a wheelchair.

"Why do you ask out every girl we meet?"

"Roland, it's statistics."


He looked at me with sad wonder at my inability to understand what was so obvious to him.

"Statistics. I've counted. You have to ask out 10 girls before one agrees.

Well, look at me. The odds go up to one in a hundred. So I mow through those hundred just as fast as I can. Oh, look! Here she comes back. I know she'll say yes."

And you know what? She did. She liked his spirit and sense of humor.

And guess what else? He went out more times than I did.

Learn from Steve. Learn from Janet's statistics. Attack reality with intelligence, courage, drive, and humor. You will grow into a better writer, into a better human being.

"A problem is a chance for you to do your best."
Duke Ellington

And here is a movie, that if it does as well as this trailer looks, may give agents the idea that a book on my undead Texas Ranger, Sam McCord, might sell well :

Monday, November 22, 2010


Here is Gypsy helping me edit my YA urban fantasy, THE LEGEND OF VICTOR STANDISH.

She is a harsh critic.

Swipes from those claws sting!

Now to my post :

"You are not judged by the heights to which you have risen,

but the depths from which you have climbed."
- Frederick Douglass

And the 19th century abolitionist should know. He began life as a slave to become the "Lion of Anacostia."

And how did he begin that climb?


The wife of his owner taught him the alphabet, then the beginnings of how to read.

His owner put a stop to that, saying that if he learned how to read, he would become dissatisfied with his lot.

"The first anti-slave lecture I ever heard," wryly said Frederick later in his life.

Later he would learn how to better read from the white children in the neighborhood and from the writings of the men with whom he worked.

Reading opened a whole new world of thought to the young boy. He read newspapers, political essays, books of every kind, and the New Testament --

which he taught other slaves to read at a weekly Sunday school.

It lasted six months before other slave owners, armed with clubs and stones, broke it up. Why? They feared their slaves being able to read.

To read.

It is an awesome ability we often take for granted.

And writing?

We who take up that task must understand its power. The power of the word to touch one human soul, beginning a rippling effect whose end none but The Father knows.

But before we can do that we must climb out of the dreaded slush pile.

And Scaling Mt. Everest was a cinch compared to climbing out of the slush pile.

Just ask any unpublished writer. Ask me. Ask the marines.

So how do you climb out of the slush pile?

You tackle the task like a professional. Agents are business men and women. You must approach them as such.

In essence, approaching an agent for representation is like approaching a bank for a loan.

Mark Twain said that banks were like those folks who were willing to lend you an umbrella when it was sunny.

When you don't need the money, banks will loan it to you. Why? Because they know you can pay it back.

Often it feels as if agents are silently saying with their rejections,

"If I don't want your autograph, then I don't want your manuscript."

If you're Stephen King, agents will kill to represent you. Well, maybe not.

But then again, one never knows.

But you're not Stephen King. So what do you do? No. Identity theft is out of the question.

Think bank loan. What do banks want from you? A good credit rating for one thing.

And what does an agent want from you? Credentials. Like what you ask?

Awards or achievements. Professional associations. Education. Related work experience.

How do you get those?

Attend local writers' workshops, taught by professional writers.

Politely get to know as many professionals there as you can. Very, very diplomatically ask them if you may use their names when inquiring of an agent.

Hey, all of them were where you are now.

Most of them are quite kind. I will help you bury the rest. {Just checking to see if you were paying attention.}

Have your novel FULLY completed.

I saw a friend lose her shot at a great agent because she submitted it only half done. He wanted to see the full. She had to tell him the truth.

End of a wonderful window of opportunity.

Have the first 30 pages so polished and suspenseful you would bet your life on them. You are certainly betting the life of your career and of your novel on them.

Write a killer query letter. How? Show her something that she very seldom sees.


Be Hemingway in your query.

Give yourself three sentences to convey the plot, characters, themes, and emotional impact of your 400 page novel. IMdB is a good source to see how summaries of classic movies are written in three sentences.

Be an adverb stalker.

Stalk them and send them packing. No adverbs allowed. Or darn few. No first names for your target agent. No self-depreciating comments allowed either. People tend to take you at the value at which you place yourself.

We are drawn to confident people because we unconsciously accept that they have something about which to be confident.

If they are sure, it sets us at ease. They are competent. And who doesn't want a competent person at their side?

You're applying for a loan here. Be professional.

Be aware of the requirements of the specific agent that you're approaching. See you from her side of the desk. What is she looking for?

For one thing : a novel that is unique but born of what is selling for the publishers.

And what sells? Primal. Primal appeals to the unconscious mind of the reader, including the agent.

Primal hungers. Primal dangers. Primal drives.

Sex. Money. Safety. And threats to all three.

Give the agent the first three lines of your novel.

Make sure they are great hooks. Sentences that reach out and grab the reader.

They will more than likely be the only sentences any agent will ever read of your submitted manuscript

before coming to a conclusion of the attractiveness and saleability {is that a word?} of your work.

Submit to the agent EXACTLY as she requests.

This indicates that ... 1.) You are literate and can follow simple instructions.

And ... 2.) You are a professional and are in this for the long haul.

If the agent asks you to change the ending or get rid of a character, remain calm.

This may simply be a test. Use some imagination, some deep-breathing exercises, and do what the agents requests.

She wants to see how you handle criticism. She doesn't want a tempermental prima donna on her hands. The one she sees in the mirror is quite enough, thank you.

{Just checking if you're paying attention again.}

How you handle these requests will show her your degree of professionalism.

These requests are a good sign. She's interested. She's been around a lot longer than you in the business. Try it her way.

Write it her way.

Then, if the ending or character is pivotal in your thinking, present a reasoned, item by item defense. But be flexible.

It is better to bounce than to break.

I know. I have the bruises to prove it. Good luck to all my fellow climbers out there.
During these past eight work days straight, I've been listening to this Enya tune. She released a single of this during the time of 9-11, its profits went to the surviving families of those killed in the Twin Towers. Thought you might enjoy it as well :