So you can read my books

Monday, May 31, 2010


Winning by losing. But lose what? Now that depends upon what you want to win.

"If you wish to travel far, take off your envies, jealousies, unforgiveness, selfishness, and fears."

I would add but keep your sense of humor. What did Mark Twain write?

"Josh Billings defined the difference between humor and wit as that between the lightning bug and the lightning. Which brings to mind the man who receives a telegram telling him that his mother-in-law is dead and asking, 'Shall we embalm, bury, or cremate her?'

He wired back, 'If these fail, try dissection.'"

Win by losing. Win a better novel. By losing ...

1) Long sentences :

Hemingway hated long sentences. He said you tended to get lost amidst the tangle of adverbs. Say more by writing less.

2) Long paragraphs :

Hemingway was once mocked by a critic and challenged to tell a winning story in one paragraph. He wrote an entire story in only six words :

For sale : Baby shoes, never used.

3) Tired words.

Use vigorous words. Words that imply action, fear, pain. Words that involve your reader.

He pushed a boulder up the hill. {The ghost of Hemingway just winced.}

He sweated the boulder to the top of the hill. {Hemingway's ghost nodded but still frowned at me. Better but no cigar. Hey, I couldn't smoke a ghost's cigar anyway.}

4) Lose the negative :

Hemingway, not the most uplifting of souls, was still the best at this. How? He wrote what something was -- not what something wasn't.

Direct the reader's mind where you want. Using painless still focuses the mind on the concept 'pain.'

Instead of 'inexpensive' use 'economical.'

This software is error free. Ouch. This software is stable. Better.

5) Lose the shit :

“I write one page of masterpiece to ninety-one pages of shit,” Hemingway confided to F. Scott Fitzgerald in 1934.

“I try to put the shit in the wastebasket.”

6) Lose the frills :

William Somerset Maugham said his early writing was filled with self-consciousness and frills. He started writing well when he admitted his bad writing and cast aside the goal of fine writing.

"I decided to write bare. I had so much to say I could afford to waste no word. I set the impossible goal of using no adjectives at all. I used what I saw. My observing eye saw detail where others saw only vagueness.

I aim at lucidity, simplicity, and euphony. I state them in the order of their importance."

7) Lose the copy. Keep the original :

Raymond Chandler (The Big Sleep) wrote --

"The most durable thing in writing is style,and style is the most valuable investment a writer can make with his time. Your own style, not that of your writing inspiration"

This example of Raymond Chandler's hardboiled prose style has been drawn from the opening chapter of his 1939 novel, The Big Sleep:

It was about eleven o'clock in the morning, mid October, with the sun not shining and a look of hard wet rain in the clearness of the foothills. I was neat, clean, shaved, and sober, and I didn't care who knew it. I was everything the well-dressed private detective ought to be. I was calling on four million dollars.

The main hallway of the Sternwood Place was two stories high.

Over the entrance doors, which would have let in a troop of Indian elephants, there was a broad stained-glass panel showing a knight in dark armor rescuing a lady who was tied to a tree and didn't have any clothes on but some very long and convenient hair.

The knight had pushed the vizor of his helmet back to be sociable, and he was fiddling on the ropes that tied the lady to the tree and not getting anywhere. I stood there and thought that if I lived in the house, I would sooner or later have to climb up there and help him.

Compare and contrast Chandler's style with that of Ernest Hemingway in the excerpt from his story "In Another Country."

In the fall the war was always there, but we did not go to it any more. It was cold in the fall in Milan and the dark came very early. Then the electric lights came on, and it was pleasant along the streets looking in the windows.

There was much game hanging outside the shops, and the snow powdered in the fur of the foxes and the wind blew their tails. The deer hung stiff and heavy and empty, and small birds blew in the wind and the wind turned their feathers. It was a cold fall and the wind came down from the mountains.

Two styles. Neither one of them yours or mine. We must lose the copying of them and keep true to the voice within our own muse.
Winning by losing. Memorial Day is a day for reflecting on what we have won by losing the precious lives of the slain and the innocence of the survivors.

Are we the policemen of the world? Don't be so quick to answer. If we do not step in to help, who will? In all the world's major disasters, it is the American flag you will see flying over medical camps in unfriendly lands.

We help even our enemies. We are Americans. It is our way.

Sunday, May 30, 2010


"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."

All right then. Let's get her done.


"Humanity. 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 someone shallow, "Unfortunately, I could not keep from listening to him. He was as handsome as the dawn."

Words. Humanity.

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 another 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 a little stirring music for our muse :

Saturday, May 29, 2010


We are storytellers.

Before civilization, before the written word, before community, the storyteller existed.

Storytellers were the catalysts of civilization, the written word, and the sense of community.

Man banded together for the protection and shelter. The hunters fed the people. But the storytellers fed their dreams. And it was the dreams that cast back the darkness.

More than the campfires, it was the myths and legends told by the storytellers that kept the darkness at bay. They nourished Man's dreams. And the dreams gave him hope. And the hope gave him the strength for the hard days.

So when you begin to type, pause. Take a moment to reflect on the sacred trust that has been handed to you. Look towards the shadows in your room and nod to the spirits who watch you.

Do them proud.


Like the title? It's to my latest novel. It is a Steampunk YA romance/fantasty told through the male POV.

I looked for an agent who seemed a good fit for it. I found one who said in several interviews and on the webpage of her agency that she had a dream. What dream?

She longed to see a Steampunk YA romance/fantasy told through the male POV come to her. I could hardly believe my eyes. Then, I went to the website.

Remember all my stressing to you about the importance of brevity in your queries. Get ready to laugh. Her agency didn't accept queries.

Just an online form. A very specific online form. And room for only very, very brief answers. You can laugh now.


O.K. Time for me to follow my own advise. Don't you hate when you have to do that? Giving it is always so much easier!

Mark Twain first said that. I could see him in the shadows of my apartment, chewing his cigar and smiling, "Well, get to it, son. Let's see if the teacher learned his own lessons."

He looked at me and rolled his eyes, "It's easy, boy. You only got to show her three things : place, protagonist, and problem. Piece of cake."

He winked a twinkling eye and snorted, "Devil's Food Cake, that is."

Well, I have given little snippets of advise in these last posts. I thought you deserved to see me skirm a little. So here is the online form and my answers.

Be kind. Mark Twain has said all the jibes already. "Best time I've had in a hundred years, boy," he laughed.

Here it is :

Please list any prior literary credits including books previously published, MFA programs, awards/grants, short stories in magazines or journals and/or any prior representation:

My only literary experience is being an owner of a bookstore for 15 years and having to know what my customers liked. And before that I was a high English teacher who taught courses in creative writing.

Please write a short synopsis of your novel (250 words maximum):

What is worse than no love? Two jealous loves, both born of the supernatural, danger, and madness.

LOVE LIKE DEATH : A Steampunk romance -- told from the male POV. A world that, like Alice's, begins with the familiar and spins round into a kaleidoscope of wonder and danger.

An orphanage is set ablaze by a madman. One fifteen year old boy survives. Or does he? Is he dead in a mad purgatory, or is reality stranger than he believed?

In the end, he learns reality is what you make it. What matters are the choices you make and that in the end, love, like death, consumes you.

Blake Adamson is accompanied in his vision quest by two supernatural girls, a fallen Sidhe and an escaped Shinseen slave. They are bound to him by a curse that dooms the three of them to endlessly repeat a fatal cycle -- unless Blake can discover an exit he's failed to think of in a hundred incarnations.

And he does. But can he find the courage to arrange for his younger self to never escape the orphanage fire? He does. But finds he has made things even worse.

My novel can be read as a stand-alone. Or it can be continued in the fantasy, whose rough draft I have just finished : LAST EXIT TO BABYLON.

Total word count (not pages): 80,000 words.

Any additional information you’d like to include (i.e., media exposure, articles, website; 250 words maximum):

To get a better feel for my writing voice and my range, you might want to drop by my blog. Yes I have one of those, too.
Is this a multiple query? No.

LOVE LIKE DEATH is a bit of a fantasy Titanic with Blake Adamson sailing the dangerous Sea of Fate with one love, trying to save another -- all the while knowing it will likely be the death of him.

I was going to post a modern song with clips from the TITANIC so as not to punish my friends with my smaltzy musical tastes. Then, Mark winked at me. "Celine's music is better than it sounds. Go ahead. Play it again. Would I lead you wrong?"

Of course the answer to that is yes. But I did it anyway.

*With thanks to for the wonderful picture.

Friday, May 28, 2010


There's a scene in Stephen King's SALEM'S LOT that I've used as a counseling illustration for years.

At least I hope that scene is there in the book. It's been awhile since I last read it. But if it isn't there, it ought to be.

SALEM'S LOT was King's second published novel, and he wanted it called SECOND COMING. But the publishers thought that sounded too religious. And even then, publishers didn't want to scare off a major portion of the reading audience by implying there were spiritual themes in the book.

And before we rail against the publishers, think of how many people yawning in church pews you've seen. Being preached at is all too often boring. It is what it is.

The publishers also did a last minute price cut from $8.95 to $7.95 {yes, those were the prices for hardcovers back in 1976}, producing an "unholy grail" for collectors. Only 4 copies of the unchanged dust covers are known to exist. eBay anyone?

Anyway, on to the illustration :

Ben Mears, our author/hero, has persuaded the sheriff to sit in the morgue with him. If at sundown the 3 day old dead do not rise, Ben will happily be led to the looney bin. The sheriff, plagued with deaths and disappearances, does not need an addled author making his life harder. And so the sheriff agrees, thinking that at sundown, his life will be made just a little easier.

Shows you how plans unravel. Sundown comes. The shelves of the morgue fly open, the newly awakened vampires rise from the cold steel. The sheriff turns horrified to Ben.

"I believe. I believe! Now what?"

But that was just it. Ben had worked so hard to get the sheriff to believe, he had thought no further than this point. He had made no plans at what to do next. Because King needed him alive for the rest of the book, Ben did indeed come up speedily with a plan.

But we are so often like Ben Mears. We struggle, labor, and work for a goal, only to surprisingly achieve it, not knowing what to do next. We haven't planned for "What now?"

We writers work, polish, edit, revise, then finally mail off our query to agent after agent. Submit. Get rejected. Get nothing. Submit again. And again. And yet again.

Then : the agent asks to see a partial or a full. What?! And then we discover what we should have been doing all along as we queried. Which is, you ask?

Thinking why an agent would say no to a partial or a full and fixing those problems BEFORE we send our dream novel out the door.

And why would an agent say no?

Janet Reid gave us some reasons earlier in my posts. Rachelle Gardner gave us some more in February :

1. The story falls apart after the first 2-3 chapters.

We polish that first chapter, those first 30 pages. But do we go any further? We ought to. As we're waiting for those replies to our queries, we should slowly go over the first six chapters, trying to see them through the jaded, weary eyes of an agent. Then, the next six. And the six after that. Until the whole novel gleams.

What flaw might a weary agent see? The monster called BackStory gobbling up the momentum and suspense of your novel. Is your hero in some form of jeopardy each chapter? Do things slowly worsen for him/her?

Go to the middle of your novel. Read with an agent's eye for pacing, suspense, and action. Do snails race past your Hamlet hero? If so, your novel is in trouble.

Go to the the last chapter. Compare it to your first. Are they like those before and after pictures in those diet ads? They better be. There should be growth in the problems and perceptions of your hero that were introduced in the first chapter. If not, your novel is adrift with no sense of direction or destination.

Without that, the agent will not put down your novel with a smile and the words, "Now that was a great read!"

2. The manuscript doesn't pass the "put it down" test.

An agent has a life outside your manuscript. I know that's a shock. But there it is. She has to put your manuscript down to live that life. Look at the adventures, the one-liners, the thrills, the suspense in your novel. If there isn't much of any of those things I've just mentioned -- how eager do you think she'll really be to pick it back up?

And if she isn't, how is she going to convince a jaded editor that there will be lots of readers who won't be able to lay your novel down?

Think of the illusion of victory in history.

I have a scene in FRENCH QUARTER NOCTURNE where Samuel is meeting Colonel Strasser fresh from Casablanca in Sam's club, where all times meet in the year 2005. Strasser asks Sam, "You know how the war ends, don't you?"

"Yes," said Samuel. "Everybody loses."

Use the illusion of victory in your novel. The hero only thinks she's won. It was a hollow victory. She struggles as everything becomes storm around her. The antagonist wins. Laughs and leaves our heroine on her knees. The heroine discovers there is a difference between defeat and losing. Defeat only teaches us what to do better in order to win. And the antagonist discovers her victory was illusion.

Every chapter should end with things doing an about-face or worsening. Each chapter should begin with the hero dodging and evading certain defeat to continue on.

3. The mysterious Nazca Lines For Writers :

I wrote a post that might help you in polishing your entire novel so that it will not be rejected from an agent who has asked to see a partial or a full. Rather than repeat it here, I'll give you the link :

And since we started this post with SALEM'S LOT, here is an excerpt that might give you an idea why it was snapped up by an agent :

In the fall, the sun loses its thin grip on the air first, turning it cold, making it remember that winter is coming and winter will be long.

Thin clouds form, and the shadows lengthen out. They have no breadth, as summer shadows have; there are no leaves on the trees or fat clouds in the sky to make them thick.

They are gaunt, mean shadows that bite the ground like teeth.
Now, can you see why that agent snatched his book up? I end with one of my favorite movie scenes. Two men of different faiths, one a poet, the other a poisoned Viking, both pray as they face the advance of an overwhelming horde and certain death.


"The human face is really like one of those Oriental gods : a whole group of faces juxtaposed on different planes -- it is impossible to see them all."
- Marcel Proust

Marcel was a French novelist, essayist, and critic. He is known by many for his REMEMBRANCE OF THINGS PAST. His was a life of hardships, ill health, and yearnings for a family's love lost.

That particular quote was brought to mind in a email conversation I had with Vicki Rocho of RAMBLES & RANDOMNESS

I was writing that non-fiction books on psychology like the one I was reading, SURVIVAL OF THE PRETTIEST, helped me in becoming a better writer. It is crucial that we as writers be discerning in how we humans relate to one another and why.

Our scenes must strike the reader as natural. The way our characters interact must resound with the ring of life as it is -- not as we wish it to be. Books like SURVIVAL OF THE PRETTIEST can help us see the multi-layers of human interactions.

In riveting style, Etcoff, a psychologist at Harvard Medical School, demolishes the belief that beauty is a cultural construct, arguing instead "that beauty is a universal part of human experience, and that it provokes pleasure, rivets attention, and impels actions that help ensure the survival of our genes."

By drawing widely from anthropological, psychological, biological and archeological literature, Etcoff discerns surprising similarities in the ways humans have perceived and responded to beauty across diverse cultures throughout the millennia.

For example, cross-cultural research comparing two isolated Indian tribes in Venezuela and Paraguay to people in three Western cultures demonstrated a remarkable similarity in what is considered beautiful. And evidence that red pigments were used as lipstick as long ago as 5000 B.C. suggests that media images are not the sole reason that "in the United States more money is spent on beauty than on education or social services."

The most important message in this book is that we cannot ignore our evolutionary past when attempting to understand our current behavior, even as we should recognize that we need not be slaves to our genes. Topics as wide-ranging as penis- or breast-enlargement surgery and the basics of haute couture are treated with wit and insight.

And Amazon sells a used hardcover for $4. How cool is that?

Another indispensible psychology text for me as a student of human interaction, body language, and as a writer is EYE TO EYE, HOW PEOPLE INTERACT. It is truly an awesome aid to any writer of human interactions. It is loaded with color photographs with detailed summations of what is going on.

The observations of 26 British and American psychologists are combined in words and pictures "to identify precisely what it means to be a social animal."

A varied format blends text, headlines, boxed sidebars, diagrams, photographs and extended captions in a graphic overview of innate and cultural human communication.

The book analyzes how facial expression, eye contact, touch, gesture, appearance and comportment function in such attitudes as shyness, enthusiasm, territorial awareness, dominance, rivalry, aggression and so on in minor acquaintance, friendship, group activity, romance, sexual attraction, family relationships and career contacts as well as the possible effect of these on individual health, self-esteem, success or failure.

The clean layout and a wealth of charts and graphs make this volume an easy resource for YAs to use for research in psychology, health, or sociology classes. Bountiful color photographs illustrate this enjoyable, comprehensive volume. It's also an excellent book for browsers.

And on Amazon you can get a used paperback for a penny! Now that is really cool. But I would opt for the used hardback (it is oversized like a coffee table book) at $6. But I will give the link for the penny edition. I know money's tight these days :

In 30 seconds you and all your friends will be pulled into it. It will be an invaluable aid in writing the interactions of your characters. Trust me. It will be a penny well spent. Or six dollars.

And speaking of being pulled in, that's what you're aiming at with queries :

Pulling in the agent. Making her/him pause in his whittling down the slush pile. Having her stop the mantra of "reject, reject, reject" to go, "Oh, here's a maybe."


That is the question as Hamlet would say. Brevity {you knew that was coming, didn't you?} and broad strokes.

Hook. {If the world were all vampires, what would they drink?}

{Research what high-sale book this agent has handled that is like yours (don't cheat -- it has to be like yours -- or the agent will feel cheated)}

Mention how your book is cut from the same cloth as that book -- that will slow the reject mantra down. She made money from that particular book. She could possibly make money from yours.

3 stirring sentences boiling down your plot to the basics. At this point, the agent is only considering your query in the broadest sort of way. She is asking herself, "Do I want to see more?" Intrigue her enough to nod yes.

{Ever ask, "How are you?" to an acquaintence and get a three hour, detailed painful answer?} Don't be that in your query. The most effective monster in the movies is the one of whom you only see broad flashes.

Be a bad reporter : don't name names. It jars the agent to have to stop and mentally go, "How the h___ do you pronounce Sidhe de la Muerte?" The agent is thinking speed and ease of digesting your query.

Give the agent verbal indigestion at your peril. No names. Usually it is unnecessary. Hero. Love interest. Enemy. Arena of conflict.

Never trip your agent's attention. Highlight in broad strokes. Don't spotlight in numerous details.

"The man with death in his veins is the reluctant champion of life in post-Katrina New Orleans."

No sub-plots. Your agent will probably make her initial reject at the genre alone. "I don't do military history."

I do the housekeeping as it is called : title, length, and genre in the subject header of my email. Fast and upfront. And this way it doesn't interfere with the flow of the query.

Next will be your basic plot. If your base plot seems weak without your sub-plot. That's because you plot is weak. Time to tweak not query.

The above logline is too general. For once I did that on purpose. How about :

"In post-Katrina New Orleans, there is one dark French Quarter street where the dead are rising. And to stop them? One undead Texas Ranger. The Night of the Hungry Shadows has begun."

Think brief but specific. Also think : "What time is it anyway?" The agent is. Tell her.

As in the logline above. Hurricane Katrina. Two short words but they paint a whole picture of human struggle. I mention the time frame. The Night of the hungry shadows.

It gives an immediate structure to my work for the agent. She knows my book has a structure. She knows a lot from a little.

A novel set in post-Katrina New Orleans will have an entirely different flavor than one set during the six days of the missile crisis in the Kennedy White House.

Location gives a sense of atmosphere, of the culture, and of the people involved. Post-Katrina New Orleans. Three words that tell the agent a great deal.

In one sentence without one word of plot, the agent can see the broad scope of my novel.

Can you see your query a little more clearly now? Hope so.

The evocative cat photo comes from Jessica's lovely blog THE ALLITERATIVE ALLOMORPH The past two days she has had truly intriguing posts.

And here is a haunting melody called "Valley of Dreams."

Thursday, May 27, 2010


"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.
I am beginning what will be probably turn out to be 18 work hours straight - which is why this early post. I will be listening to this during some of the stressful times. Thought you might enjoy it as well :


Eternity is really long, especially near the end.
- Woody Allen




We’re doomed.

Hollywood says so.


Pop Culture has long had a fascination with the end times.

21st century Man is like the proverbial kid in the backseat :

“Are we there yet?”

Man becomes preoccupied with the end of things

During bad times.

And these have certainly been bad times lately :




wars,and economic collapse.

Sociology professors say that our fascination with the end times reflects a hunger for meaning in these admittedly bad times.

We want to know where we are going

And how soon we will get there.

And while myths and religions have long talked about the end of the world,

It has only been since the rumblings that led to the first World War

that literature,and later movies, started telling stories of individuals

struggling during the world’s death.

H. G. Wells wrote his famous WAR OF THE WORLDS in 1898.

Scholars call the study of the end times …


Which is fun for the dark little boy inside me because it

Is only letter and one syllable removed from


Which is the scholarly study of folks fascinated with


And sadly, sometimes it’s hard to know the

Difference lately what with Hollywood has been giving us.

And so here we are in 2010. Some experts said we wouldn’t make it.

Some theologians thought the end would come

In 1988.

What? Why then, of all years?

It marked a full generation passing since Israel became a

nation in 1948.

Then, the theologians said the time clock

For the End Times started

When Jerusalem was in Israeli hands once more in 1968.

2008 came and went. Terrible times especially around here in Lake Charles after Rita.

But no End Times Unless all of this is a bad dream.

And sometimes it does feel like one, doesn’t it?

But the truth is when the end comes :

For you,

For Man,

For the World,

That time is unknown.

The unknown. Its allure is what gave birth to myth,


and tales told around the campfire.

Man wants to know the unknowable. Nature abhors a vacuum. Human Nature hates it even more.

Mankind can't abide not knowing. If Man doesn't have an answer, he will make one up.

And that is why we have myths.

And the desire to make up the answer is why we have science fiction and fantasy.

And the greatest unknown, of course is


We listen to doomsday economic, political,religious jihad news.

We go to the theater and see the world end, only to go outside in the bright light of day, seeing the cars pass by and hearing the pedestrians chatting away on their cell phones.

Just Hollywood. We're safe.

Aren't we?

Not so you’d notice.

Jamestown. Jim Jones convinced his followers that the world was about to end in nuclear horror. They mixed in cyanide with their Kool-Aid and drank it down.

Personally, I believe something stronger was called for.

It's a terrible joke for a horrendous reality

But …

There is Heaven’s Gate and its herald, Marshall Applewhite,

whose followers believed his tale that their souls were about to be snatched up by the spacecraft flying in the tail of the Hale-Bopp comet. All they had to do get on board

Was die.

No Kool-Aid for them. No, sir. They mixed their poison with good old American Pie, washed down by vodka.

It is no wonder Hollywood considers us gullible.

But there is another reason why we all flock to End of the World movies such as


Deep Impact,

When Worlds Collide,

I Am Legend.

We want to believe

That somehow, someway,we’ll be able to fix it and make things right.

Science has become our new God. And it will make things right.


Science may be God to some. But it is a vengeful God.

Man has never made a weapon that He has not ended up using. Even a limited nuclear exchange {
5% of the global nuclear arsenal} would almost certainly ANNIHILATE life on Earth as we know it.

Hollywood responds with





Hollywood tells us what we want to hear :

Something good of what we were would survive.

Hollywood doesn’t seem to get the message. Which is :

WE want to survive, skippy!

Which is why the end times movies that do the most box office are the ones in which the main hero survives

MAD MAX franchise.

The first MATRIX.

The 1st PLANET OF THE APES movie

{Yes, I know Charleton Heston’s not ecstatic.

But he’s alive and he’s got the babe. And a kicker of a last scene.}


Great last scenes. “Get up and shout” scenes.


“Put the gun in your mouth and pull the trigger” last scenes.

And the box office receipts showed it.

You and I don’t want to spend ten dollars to get depressed!

We can stay at home and be that for free!

Oh, and don’t think that the scenario of CHILDREN OF MEN could happen?

Think again, skippy.

The average sperm count has dropped by HALF in the last 30 years!


People in industrialized countries don’t make nearly enough babies.

People in the third world lose many of their young children to poor conditions.

It gives you something to ponder.

That’s why I emailed Megan Fox told her of my excellent genes,high I.Q,and sturdy genetic stock.

With her looks and my brains, we’d make beautiful babies. Her lawyer emailed back something silly about cease & desist.

She’s just thinking it over.


And then, there is the zombie craze.

Oh, sure, it’s all fun and games until your girlfriend suddenly wants to make a snack of your brains.

But Hollywood knows we are drawn to a story following a small group of friends, facing a world of devastated, formerly familiar streets filled with throngs of trudging,hungering, walking corpses.

We ask :

What would I do in such a situation?

Where would I go?

Who would I take?

What would I bring?

But behind all the movies lies the promise that we could survive if we were smart and lucky.

Bottom Line :

We could survive.

There would be a tomorrow.

We all have an inbuilt need to associate ourselves with those who survive.

We all have this crazy human need to believe that we will beat the odds when others do not.

There's a powerful scene near the end of The Road, the film adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's Pulitzer Prize—winning novel, where a father and son sit silent together under brooding skies

on a wasted, nameless beach, littered with human and whale skeletons.

They have finally reached the coast after traversing by foot a post-apocalyptic America
filled with nightmare dangers, hardships, and traps.

The boy, about age 10, has never seen the sea.

"What's on the other side?" he asks.

"Nothing," replies his father,suffering from malnutrition and despair, after having fought off evils both human and animal.

All along he has urged his son to maintain hope—

to "carry the fire" — but has slowly lost his own.

The boy, who believes there's still goodness somewhere in their dark and dying world,

looks out to the sea and says,

"There must be something."

Wanting to keep his son's hope alive, the man pauses and then answers.

"Maybe there's a father and his son, and they're sitting on the beach too."

Like McCarthy's 2006 book, the film is both depressing and redeeming;

it depicts one of the most loving father-son relationships to appear on the big screen.

And this particular scene speaks volumes for all of us asking a universal question.

What's on the other side?

And that is what good Science Fiction and Movies do for us :

They help us discover for ourselves what we feel is on the Other Side.

In my worldview,there is indeed a Father and His Son waiting for us

On The Other Side.

And remember …

"apocalypse" doesn't mean end, but is Greek for "revelation" -- an unveiling of truth.

Let us keep looking for truth in the world around us and in that most puzzling world :

The one within us.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010


The cure for discouragement.

No. Sorry to disappoint you. I don't have it. 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 2010: 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 fight discouragement? 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. The cure for discouragement is 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 any girl we met out. Waitress. Nurse. Pretty blonde in the same elevator. Any 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 as the Lakota elders would say, "Learn from the eagle."

Tuesday, May 25, 2010


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. And if I'm wrong about this, would You please put in an appearance in my apartment? I've got some questions.

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

L. Diane Wolfe has an excellent post on why none of us should even consider a subsidy or vanity press.

Bottom line : 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. Learn how to use it. Listen to others. 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 just written a post 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. 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."
One of my favorite melodies is "Adiemus," and I have included it with a glimpse of 300, a movie stemming from brave men who would not admit "impossible" into their thinking.

Monday, May 24, 2010


And now I sail on lonely seas,
Where once the waves bore two;
And now I hunt,
But I hunt alone,
My hand empty, needing you;
Your name's a whispered blight,
The mocking winds reply
In speechless cries of night.
- Samuel McCord

There are few love stories out there. For me, at least.

Lust stories, yes. Lots of those. But love? Love that is a candle in the darkness? A haunting will-O-Wisp that lights the way even when she you loved is no more? I seldom see that kind of book.

You don't know what love is until you've learned the meaning of regret. You don't know what love is until you had to lose. You don't know how lips hurt until you've kissed and had to pay the cost.

Several of my friends have emailed me asking to see Samuel and Meilori together in a love scene. Their love is one that cannot win yet never dies. Here is a moment from RITES OF PASSAGE, set in 1853 when speech patterns were more formal, where time and tide seem to conspire to destroy the two of them :



"Can you see any hope for us, my Samuel. I cannot."

- Lady Meilori Shinseen.

The cyclop eye of the moon peered down at us from the face of the stars. We had decided to look at the endless ripples of the ocean and stand on the deck where we first met. The strong breeze tasted of salt and storm. I watched it tug at Meilori's hair. She looked up into the velvet darkness and let out a sigh.

"Has it just been forty-seven hours since first we met, Samuel? I feel as if I see the world anew. How can so much have changed in so little time?"

My chest grew tight. I couldn't believe it. She was keeping count of the hours since we'd first met.

Just like me.

I wrapped my arm around her slim waist, fearing she would pull away. But instead, she leaned in against me. I felt a weight lift off my chest.

"A life can turn all about in just a pull of a trigger. Like when Father killed Mother ... or when I killed him."

She pressed gloved fingertips against my lips. "No talk of sorrow. Not tonight. This night is magic. Can you not feel it?"

I smiled. "You are magic, Meilori."

She shook her head. "We are magic."

She pointed and hushed, "Samuel, look!"

Off to our left, not ten feet away, three dolphins leapt high in the air, coming down along side us. They kept easy pace with us, repeating their graceful leaps. It seemed they were calling out to Meilori in their haunting cries.

I stiffened as she called back to them in the same strange, piping sounds. They answered in a longer squeal of cries. She turned to me, her eyes reflecting the glow of the moon.

"They say never have they seen a light as that which burns from you, Samuel."

She lightly kissed my lips, but pulled away before I could return the favor. “Last night, in my darkness, it was your light that brought me back.”

“Same here.”



She nestled her head next to mine. “The mystery of love is greater than the mystery of life -- or death. And to that hope will I cling.”

A more mellow, yet more strident, at the same time, cry came from the black ocean. We both looked towards the source of the eerie piping. A larger dolphin cut through the dark waves as if in a race for its life.

She leapt in front of the three other dolphin. She appeared mad or scared, or a little of both. Meilori grabbed my right upper arm.

“Samuel! She is warning that death and worse than death is on this ship.”

Her face seemed to grow longer. “It is the Ancient One. I have only seen her but once before.”

“When was that?”

Meilori shivered. “When the White Dragon, Yamashiro, transformed into the terrible Bird of Death, O-Goncho. He, whose cry is the howling of a wolf.”

The three younger dolphins mewed oddly, then dived headway into the rippling surface of the heaving sea. I waited for them to come back up. They never did.

The Ancient One gave one last cry of what sounded both warning and defiance, then slid under the black waters herself, not to be seen again.

Meilori shivered again, and I led her to a row of deck chairs facing a large wooden table screwed to the deck. She sat down as if her legs wouldn’t hold her for another minute. I sat back down beside her.

Squeezing her hand, I said, “Was she talking about The Gray Man?”

Meilori shook her head slowly. “Perhaps. His is the greatest power on board supposedly.”


She took my gloved right hand in both of hers. “Oh, Samuel, the world of what Man calls the Supernatural is not the unified, coherent thing he supposes.”

She stared off into the cold night. “We dissemble, we plot, we stage diversions. But we know little of the races who war against us and one another. Quetzalcoatl and Kali are strong -- and devious. Them you know.”

“Not Kali.”

“You killed her nymphs.”

“My body did. As it kills anything that comes upon it unawares while I am asleep.”

She peered into my eyes. “How have you gone on all these years?”

I sighed. “There were always innocents naked before wolves. Without me, they would have been eaten.”

She patted the back of my right hand. “It sounds a lonely life.”

“It is -- was.”

She smiled sad. “For me as well.”

I looked deep into her eyes. “Do you know who killed Rachel?”

She stiffened and pulled away from me. “Inari says if you insist on following this hunt of yours to its conclusion, it will destroy you.”

She leaned forward, holding my hands in hers. “Oh, Samuel, forget this obsession of yours.”

“Right now, I have a lot of helpless passengers to worry about. They’re still alive. So for the moment, I’ve put Rachel’s murderer on the back burner. Me finding him -- or her -- won’t bring Rachel back. But me being side-tracked by hunting for a murderer could mean other helpless women and children dying.”

I felt my face tighten. “And I won’t be responsible for that.”

I turned to her. “Lady Inari. How did you hook up with her?”

Her eyes seemed to become deeper, less easy to read. “As you have said about Elu, it is not completely my story to tell. If she is willing, I will one day tell you.”

She shivered again, rising silent and somber. “The magic has gone from the night. I will retire to my suite.”

I turned to follow, but she put a hand on my chest and murmured, “Alone. There is much I must reflect upon.”

She looked out over the angry, black ocean, then turned back to me. “Can you see any hope for us, my Samuel? I cannot.”

I reached out for her, but she drew back, and it felt like she stabbed me.

I said soft,“I never learned to quit, Meilori. And I refuse to give up on you -- or us.”

She smiled with trembling lips. “Then, perhaps, there is hope for us yet.”

But the look in her eyes put the lie to her words. I watched her walk gracefully into the shadows. I felt my face go even tighter.

Not that I wasn’t a gentleman, but I figured I knew for sure that the revenants, (and who knew what else was lurking in the darkness of this ship), weren’t gentlemen or fair fighters. Keeping a respectful distance, I followed Meilori to make sure she made it to her suite in one piece.

Her jasmine perfume stirred uncomfortable desires inside me, but I pushed them back into the corner of my being. I was here for her, not me. I shadowed her as quiet and cat-footed as I could.

She slowed about ten feet down the deck, then stopped completely, her head down. She stood that way for long moments. If I still breathed, I would have been holding my breath. She sighed, as if coming to a decision, and turned to the walkway she had just passed. I hugged the shadows next to the wall.

Giving her time to put some distance between us, I slipped down the walkway. It lead to a set of stairs leading down to the main deck where the best suites were. I smiled. Leave it to Meilori to have the best. She deserved it.

I caught a whiff of her jasmine perfume. I crept faster after the scent, listening for her gentle footfalls. They were slowing. I gnawed my lower lip.

Trailing her wasn’t turning out to be easy. But if her slower steps indicated a preoccupied mind, I might have an edge. My stomach coiled.

But then, that edge would also belong to a would-be murderer. I hurried after the scent of jasmine a bit faster. Odd. The passageway seemed awful familiar. As I turned the corner, I stopped.

Meilori, a frown on her full lips, was waiting, arms crossed, right toe tapping, in front of my stateroom door. I swallowed with difficulty. This could get ugly. I forced my voice to work.

“I can explain, Meilori.”

“Indeed? I am waiting with bated breath.”

“You looked so upset. And I was worried for your safety. I was just going to shadow you to make sure you made it to your cabin safe.”

Her eyes glittered dangerously. “And the waves of passion I smelled coming from you?”

I tugged at my collar. “If I could think of a good lie, Meilori, I’d tell it to you. But --”


“Your nose was dead on. Damn it, Meilori. It’s just hard to love you as I do and be so close to you, yet forced to stay away. It near tears me apart.”

She sucked in her upper lip over her teeth as if fighting some strong emotion, then she lost the fight. She laughed light like a little girl. I cocked my head.

“Y-You aren’t mad?”

She walked slowly over to me. “As soon as I sensed you behind me, I knew what you were doing, Samuel. And it came to me, then.”


“That what you feared happening to me might come to you as well. And I was a fool to waste this night.”

She kissed me wild, fierce, her lips parted, her tongue running lightly over mine. “And sometimes, magic can be reborn.”

Her eyes became wider, deeper, as she husked, “Especially, if we work at it together. Are you willing?”

I had a flash of my cabin key on the bedstand. I smiled sheepishly at her. She frowned.

I rubbed a gloved hand over my burning face. “Ah, first, I’ve got to pick the lock.”

Samuel can't seem to catch a break, can he? Here is a beautiful NIGHTWISH song, "Angels Fall First."

Sunday, May 23, 2010


That is the lament of the 21st century man.
Through midnight hours that no longer yield their former harvest of rest, he stares up at the unblinking eye of the ceiling, seeing no hope. His spirit wanders over the wrecks of his former happiness, driven by haunted memories over the shoals of guilt and oceans of regret.

Words. Just words. But did they touch some inner ghost within your own spirit?

Our queries must do the same. But in a half-page.


Doesn't seem fair or possible does it? What did Mark Twain write?

"I don't have time to write you a short letter, so I'm writing you a long one instead."
And that is so true. Economy in words is brutal and time-consuming. Ever been forced to use only one suitcase preparing for a trip? Ugly.

So much had to go. Not that those items weren't useful or even necessary. Just not as necessary as those items packed.

Agents will tell you that forcing you to submit a one page query is for your own good. Doing a half page query { the other half is filling in who you are and what you've published,} shows the agent we have the discipline of one of the 300 Spartans. If we had the skill, deliberation, and grasp of story-telling to arouse the agent's curiosity in a mere half page, it bodes well for what we did in our novel.

And all the above is true.

And it is applesauce as well.

It is not for us they demand the one page query. It is not even a measuring tool for the agent. It isn't about agent convenience either. It is about the agent's reality.

If an agent is reading this, she is probably sputtering. But as the British Daffy Duck might say to their great sounding reasons for the one page query, "Wank. Wank. Wank."

Bottom line : agents are drowning in a sea of unsolicited queries. They simply don't have the time to read a three page query that a 400 page novel calls for. But as Spenser might say, "It is what it is. So deal with it."

The half page query is forced upon us by the realities in which agents struggle. So we have to deal with it and do it expertly and with flair. If we want to communicate successfully with an agent, we must speak "agent-ese."

Can you squeeze your 400 page novel into three lines? Can you make them convey why your story is unique and absorbing, detailing background and characters? Sure, and after that, you'll establish world peace.

Here's an approach : go to Type in the search box the title of a classic movie in the genre in which you write. I typed GONE WITH THE WIND. And I got : a manipulative woman and a roguish man carry on a turbulent love affair in the American south during the Civil War and Reconstruction.

Do those words sing? Do they capture the magic, scope, and heartbreak of the movie? No. They just lie there without life or spark.

Well, put a little spin to them : My novel is the saga of a selfish woman who doesn't want to admit her feelings about the man she loves, and she finally loses him.

Better but still murmurs "reject" to the agent. How about tuning up the summary in three sentences?

GONE WITH THE WIND is the epic tale of a woman's life during one of the most tumultuous periods in America's history. From her young, innocent days on a feudalistic plantation to the war-torn streets of Atlanta; from her first love whom she has always desired to three husbands. She survives going from the utmost luxury to absolute starvation and poverty and from being torn from her innocence to a sad understanding and bitter comprehension of life.

Are you beginning to see how you might be able to pull off the half page query?

Now, it is your turn. Your mission, Jim, should you choose to accept it, is to go to IMDb and type in five classic movies in the genre in which your novel exists. For each of the five, see what has been written in the summary section for the movie.

Re-write them in ways that sing and entice. If you feel like you're getting the hang of it after five times, then look at your novel as if you were writing the summation for its movie for IMDb.

Something else to think about. Your query letter is basically a job interview. And in the job interview you are thinking internally what the company can do for you. But what the company wants to hear is what you can do for them.

Same with an agent. Can you make the agent money? Period. The end.

Is your summary unique and "Oh, wow!" Do you include the punch line to your joke? No holding back to tease. If the agent presents an unfinished turkey to her editors, she gets her hard-earned reputation bruised.

Is your novel in the genre the agent handles? Her list of agents is genre specific. If she handles techno-thrillers, she doesn't know one editor who would be interested in your Western. And worse, you've shot your ounce of good will with that agent.

Agents are tired, impatient, and lovers of order. Agents want your summation to be three sentences. That's it. They want to see your entire query laid out in three orderly paragraphs. Short ones. Easy on the eye ones. Any more paragraphs, any longer, chunkier ones scream unprofessional rookie to them.

And they don't have time to be your mentor. They want a partner not a pupil. You are not in the remake of THE KARATE KID.

How about this for an introduction?

"I finished my first book 76 years ago. I offered it to every publisher in every English- speaking country on earth that I had ever heard of. Their refusals were unanimous. And it did not get into print until 50 years later. By then, publishers would print anything that had my name on it. "

- George Bernard Shaw.

You, however, are not famous. You get one sentence to introduce yourself. Unless you met the agent personally or was recommended by a close friend, save the introduction to the end. Begin with the best hook you can.

As for the intro at the end-tro, make it as personal to her as possible. "I'm submitting to you because I saw your interview with Larry King, and you mentioned you were looking for just the sort of book I've written."

Well, I've taken up many more than three paragraphs, so I'll end now. Here's Diana Krall singing a favorite of mine from her concert in Paris :

Saturday, May 22, 2010


Do we realize what we create when we write? When we create anything for that matter? Once a mother looked at her tiny infant and beamed with love at little Adolph Hitler.

The haunting fog horn.

Did its creators know the keening sound they were creating? A sound that vibrates within the marrow of our bones and trembles inside our lost dreams. Or did they want to give warning of something more, something we dare not ignore? The loss of our mortality? Or something beyond the length of hope and past the reach of hurting hearts?

I'm in the middle of my first draft to NEW ORLEANS ARABESQUE, the sequel to FRENCH QUARTER NOCTURNE. Some say it is unwise to spend so much time in writing a sequel to a book that may not even sell. In my mind's eye I can see Samuel McCord smile wryly and say, "Son, some of my best memories are of those times when I was unwise."

So I continue to write of Sam's adventures.

As we join Samuel, the Intelligence Agencies of the major world powers have all decreed his death. He is leading them a not-so-merry chase while trying to discover the why of the worldwide interest in his final death. It has led to his killing a woman he raised. Her last name changed often. But she always kept the first name Samuel had given her : Eve.
Though I left her dead body in Amsterdam, Eve continued to haunt me. I seemed to see her eyes in all the hot shadows of this land that had sent her to kill me. A land that I helped give birth to.

Israel. The hottest spot in the part of the world where science says life began and ancient scrolls say it will end.

Me, I was a practical monster. Life begins when you start to see outside of yourself and ends when you stop.

Tel Aviv.

Considering its size and importance in the here and now, it was hard to believe that only a hundred years back, the place was just a sand dune. Actually, it had started out as a suburb of Jaffa, a city with a few shadows of its own -- like me.

After the Flood, it was said to have been founded by Japheth, Noah’s son. Old Jonah was swallowed off its coast when he turned his back on The Great Mystery, as the Sioux called Elohim.

In Greek mythology, Andromeda was chained to a rock in its port. The same port that King Solomon used to sail in all those cedars planks he used to build the Great Temple.

I smiled bitter. Now, it housed the Great Temple of Assassination and Spying, the Mossad. All in all, I figured the city had seen better days. Like me.

And like old Reuven Yatom, the present head of Metsada, the Special Operations Division. Fancy words for Murder Central.

I sat and watched him twitch like an old dog fast asleep. He was sprawled across his desk, his computer’s screensaver flashing erotic pictures of Angelina Jolie. Who would have figured him for a dirty old man?

Hell, where did he find the time?

His breathing was labored and wheezy. I watched the yellow hue of death tainting his life fires. How long did he have left? Five years? Two?

I sighed. I guess it would depend on how hard he pressed himself. If I didn't kill him first.

For a second I didn’t see the white, thinning hair. I saw him young and vital, his back pressed against mine as we fought ....

Hell, what was that war called now? I shook my head. I had fought too damn many of them to keep them all sorted right.

My face went hard. Somehow he had forced Eve to try to kill me. And I had done -- what had to have been done.

The chair I was in was backwards. I leaned a bit on its plush leather back, placing the barrel of my Colt right next to his temple. I pulled back the hammer with a gloved thumb. It made a loud, hollow click. He went stiff, his eyes snapping open.

I whispered the motto of the Mossad, “Be-tahbulot ta’aseh lekha milkhamah (By ways of deception, thou shalt make war).”

Only his rhuemy eyes moved, giving me a look that should have left welts. “What does it take to kill you, McCord?”

Any answer to that seemed downright stupid or suicidal so I said nothing. I had never gotten into trouble from something I hadn’t said.

His voice was thick with hate. “Eve is dead, is she not?”

“You should know. You killed her.”

“Do not blame me, monster!”

“I do. How the hell did you force her into trying to kill me, anyway?”

His face flushed, and his words came out slurred, “Eve had adopted the daughter of a murdered partner.”

He shrugged. “We merely suggested how dangerous life in Tel Aviv was for a thirteen year old.”

I nodded. “Figured as much. Now, I have to survive.”

He sneered, “So you can help that thirteen year old as well as you helped Eve?”

I pressed the barrel hard into his temple. “You know, you talk a lot of shit for a man with a Colt to his head.”

His wrinkled face paled. “How did you get that antique through the airport security?”

“Didn’t. I had this buried here a long time ago. Reckon I could outfit an army with all the Colts I have buried all over the world.”

His sneer returned. “If there was an army that would carry such antiquated weapons.”

“You need more than six bullets, you’re in the wrong line of business.”

Of course, this was a Walsh Navy Colt and fired twelve bullets. But with the Mossad it was never wise to show all your cards. Or all your bullets.

His lined face was a sagging map of the lost battles in his life. “What kind of monster, are you? You do not even mourn Eve.”

“I won’t mourn in front of you, bastard. And when I do, it will be in my own way.”

“You will die on this hunt, McCord. They are too many for even you.”

“Maybe. But the weak have one weapon.”

He sneered, “And what would that be?”

“The mistakes of those that figure they’re strong.”

His sneer clashed with his uncertain eyes. “They do not make mistakes.”

“They who? Who is so powerful that they can make the Mossad jump through hoops for them?”

His lips pressed together so hard, thin, and tight, they could’ve given a papercut. “Kill me, but I will not tell you.”

“Kill you? And spare you the suffering of these last years? Like hell.”

My gloved forefinger tapped the touch pad to his computer. “Besides, I bet anything you fell asleep after you talked to your master.”

The double-jointed pose of Angelina disappeared as Rueven yelped his outrage. I stared at the unveiled screen for a long moment. I turned to Reuven.

“Them? Them! I helped give birth to Israel, and you betray me to them?”

He didn’t answer but only swallowed once. Hard. His Adam’s apple seemed to have stuck in his throat. My fist slammed into his mouth. He flew out of his chair and hit the wall with a thud. He slid down it and stayed in a heap of clothes and blood. I got up slow.

“Said I wouldn't kill you. Didn’t say I wouldn't knock your teeth out.”

I sighed. Neither one of us seemed to feel any better after my hitting him. My face went rock-hard.

Next stop : the Vatican.
Here is a music video of Jerusalem by Herb Albert. Just imagine Samuel McCord in his all black western clothes, leading the assassins from a dozen different countries a grim chase. They are about to discover the harsh truth that when you hunt a tiger, sometimes the roles get reversed.