Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Holiday Cheer

Hooray for the holidays.  And 'twas a white Christmas here in Oklahoma where the wind comes whippin' down the plain.  We holed up in the abode for several days and got fat(ter).  We hope everyone has had a safe and joyous end of the year.  We are looking forward to the new one. 

I got a new book for Christmas:  Shoofly Pie by Tim Downs.  So far, so good. It is a Christian detective novel. I am also reading a really light book by Terry Pratchett:  Mort.  It is a really silly book about a boy no one wants to hire except for Death who employs him to train him to help people transition into afterlife:  definitely NOT a Christian book.

What are YOU reading right now?

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Steps of Editing

Recently, I have been planning to edit some of my almost finished work.  As I was poring over some ideas to finish my WriMo novel, Dark Mountain Mean, I was considering the different levels/steps/kinds of editing.  I have always prescribed to the thinking that editing writing (especially fiction), is done in steps or levels.

After an author pounds out the short story or novel, they should read their finished work.  Note that I said "finished."  Too often, we begin the editing process too soon.  Finish first.  Editing is the NEXT step.  When reading through the work for the first time, the author--and those worthy individuals who have volunteered/had hands wrenched behind their back--should edit the work for CLARITY.  Now, clarity is just "does this make sense?"  Are characters doing stupid things?  Did they cry too much, sigh too often, make movements not anatomically possible?  Does time march on or stutter throughout like a PC game played on a bad graphics card?  Did you write "the the?"  Does one of your characters change hair color or change thier last name inexplicably (I've done that).  The first edit is used to iron out easy-to-see deficiencies that as we are writing sound good, but until we actually read them, may not stand out. 

Once this task is completed, a second, more thorough edit must take place.  Where the first edit was simple and very little in way of changing the novel took place, this second edit could potentially fracture your sense of the novel's scenes, characters, structure, and even themes.  It is where many an author will pull out their whiskers (or yank out their scrunchies) in frustration.  The second round of editing will find the author looking for ELEMENTS OF STORY that may hinder the narrative or be off-putting to the audience.  Now, this sounds vague and that is because, well, it is.  Elements of story could be characterization, plot, scenery, time, dialogue, and more.  It could be something specific like comedic timing, a scene out of place, a character left hanging,  or a subplot that does not forward the story and needs lopped off.  It could be something as esoteric as an improper tone or a out of place mood.  As the author and his or her collaborators search the novel the second time (or a third and fourth), they will focus on the application of the story.  The focus will be more on analyzing of the art, but it will take craft to fix these deficiencies.  And sometimes that scalpel will have to be wielded by an unsteady hand.  This is the HARD edit.  This is also potentially the edit that skyrockets your novel or story.  And, sadly, this edit may actually be two to three physical edits.  That means, you may have to do it more than once to get it right.

Once you have pored over your work these three or four times already, you are about to pass out with boredom.  Surely, no one will want to read this.  Well, you have--several times, in fact.  And if you still like it, you will now go through and spit polish it one last time.  This time, you are going to fix all those nagging dangling participles, missing antecedents, run-on sentences and the invariable millions of comma splices that you have left behind in the wake of your previous edits.  This is the GRAMMAR & PUNCTUATION edit that so many dread, but is actually the easiest and quickest edit you will do.  It requires more than a word processor tool kit.  To extract cliches, poor apostrophe usage, and confusing sentence structure, you must manually read each line. But have heart, it can be done.

And now, after baking this potato more than twice, the author is ready to serve up his or her delicacy to an agent or publisher whose mouth is watering for a good yarn.  A story that will capture their imagination, a tale that will be spun that will tickle thier fancy, an outpouring of someone's Muse that will grab their attention.  And, with a little providence, a lotta hard work, and some structured editing, this story is ready to whet the appetite of even the pickiest diner.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Success, Sweet Success!

I finished the 50,000 words (50,596 to be exact) last night at 10:38.  I was very happy with the results.  I had spent the day writing over 9,000 words!  My distractions and procrastination had me up against the ropes, but I pushed through.  Funny, of those last 9,000 words, I think there is a rather large nugget of good writing.  Some of it may change, but that isn't what NaNo is about.

I do not have a novel yet.  Another 30,000 words, some polish, some editing and some feedback from my faithful readers and maybe I'll have something.  In the meantime, I have created a habit, honed my craft and stretched my comfort zone.  Plus, winning anything is worthwhile. 

I plan to post several times this week:  a compulsion driven by my NaNo experience.  Anyone put up a tree yet?  Everyone survive Black Friday?  Maybe we should call it Green Friday or Red Friday depending on whether retailers were profitable or not. 

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Biggest Loser

I am back now after several days of self-induced Modern Warfare 2 trauma.  My NaNoWriMo has suffered, my children's schooling has suffered and I am still not over my addiction.  Oh well.  I will achieve the goal of 50,000 plus words in November (more, if you count this blog and comments I leave on other blogs).  Also, I have a bone to pick (or a thousand) with the New York Times.  I will limit myself today, however.  Just in time for Thanksgiving.  This post is timely, I guess.

I have watched two seasons of the Biggest Loser.  I enjoyed it, mostly.  I wish the show would get a new editor, but the stories of these people changing their lives really resonates with millions of Americans.  Even the skinny ones.  We need to take care of our bodies.  Or bodies are God's temple.  It's not a vanity thing.  It's not a body-worship thing.  It is a survival thing--a longer, healthier, happier thing.  It is an obedient, God-centered thing. 

I read this article ( by the NY Times and felt compelled to put my two cents in.  This type of writing is what is systemic of our society as a whole.  Media is probably the largest contributor to this obsession with finding holes in every grand story.  They deny the divinity of Christ, they question the ethics of philanthropists, they smear the names of athletes and movie stars.  They tear apart the marriages of celebrity "reality" couples.  I realize many of these stories are brought to light by the same media and that is why I wonder.  It reminds me of the Chinese symbol of the dragon swallowing its own tail. 

But, I am casting my net too wide.  I could go on with this for hours and I would probably lose you, Dear Reader.  I want to specifically address this article and the show which it criticizes.  The show, if you are living under a rock, is about overweight people who compete to lose the most weight.  That is the simple version.  Of course, since it is a competition and people have proven they will do anything to get a competitive edge (Press Your Luck, Survivor, Twenty One, Major League Baseball, Olympics, et al), in this, too it seems, contestants have pushed the boundaries of sensibility to win.  As the article states, some contestants have resorted to dehydration to lose weight for the challenges.  The article, however, directs much of its criticism toward the show, as if it is to blame.
It would not be unusual for a media event to turn upon itself, or put participants in harm's way.  But, this isn't a Stephen King novella.  The emphasis of the show is to appeal to the popular American desire to lose weight. It points out principles that are already obvious to all of us who are aware that we eat poorly, excercise infrequently and have a poor mental attitude about eating.  It has become an obsession.  We have replaced sustaining our bodies with the needed energy to sustain our activities with eating to solve our problems/heal our hurts/comfort our souls or simply to indulge our love for the flavors.  We lack the proper perspective.  We sit more, do less, and subsequently store more of what we eat.  Pretty simple.

More to the point about my criticism of the article, I submit that to pit one doctor's advice about safe weight loss against another's is a weak argument.  The reader then is drawn naturally to the advice of the more conservative figure because then we can point a finger of blame.  But, wait.  If everyone lost weight at the same rate, where would be the contest?   Where would be the challenge?  Where would be the victory and the inspirational stories of NORMAL, everyday people overcoming the obstacle of obesity? 

And on what data do these doctors base their claims of safe weight loss?  For the doctor working for the show, certainly what these contestants do to their bodies is not normal.  He cannot claim that Joe Normal works out 6 hours each day or restricts caloric intake.  And the doctor from U of M?  Does he market some diet drug or run a weight loss clinic?  His answer can just as easily be linked to gain or profit as the doctor for the show. 

So we are left with what do the contestants say.  We have now five years' worth of contestants, some losing astronomical amounts of weight in a short amount of time.  Some have regressed.  Were we surprised?  Some have maintained.  Are we cynical?  If half of the contestants succeed, then that rate of success is considerably better than the rest of us.  And don't forget, thes contestants WANTED to compete.

Where this article gets my ire mostly is in its unmitigated rally to the poor winner from year one who was denied an appearance on an upcoming show due to his admission to dehydrating himself.  His admission casts little accusation at the show, but the reporter does not let that point escape.  I find this victim mentality abhorrent.  Not that victims do not exist, it is just in the search for a good "story," reporters and other media talking heads work so hard to manufacture the victim often not for the victim's sake but merely to cast aspersions upon some entity.  Of late, the targets of this vilification has been within the media itself, even culminating in books by Jayson Blair (Burning Down My Master's House) and Stephen Glass (The Fabulist) which in their self-pity lash out at their former employees to some extent.  Somehow, the self-vilification of media is reaching new heights. 

In the end, freedom of speech has its downsides, I guess.   And that is why I can express my thoughts in this blog.  Right?  What do you think?  I would be interested to know.  And, not to be outdone by the thousands of bloggers asking this most obvious of holiday questions:  for what are you thankful?

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Problem With Genre-less Novels

I read a lot of writer's and agent's blogs and I have noticed a trend for folks to either cross genres or to claim that their novel lacks a genre.  I am aware that some books are difficult to cast into a "Romance" or "Thriller" or "Horror" category and that "Commercial Fiction" or "Literary Fiction" have become sort of the miscellaneous category where books of this ilk are often tossed.  But, is saying that your novel doesn't fit a genre meant to elevate it above those categories or merely to differentiate?

I ask this question rhetorically, but the issue with this de-classification or extra-classification is that in the publishing world, often you don't want to be on an island.  The sad truth is, if you want readers to potentially happen upon your book on Amazon or in Borders/Barnes & Noble/Books-A-Million, you need to have that book placed in one of their categories. 

The next time you are in a bookstore, note the sections.  Then watch each section and the traffic.  Watch as dozens of teens browse the Manga or Vampire sections, or the fourty-something women pile up Romance books or browse Self-Help, Cookbooks or Religion.  If you don't have a "section," your book is hard to "define" and therefore hard to market.  Yeah, your coming-of-age novel set in Ireland may be a great read, but unless its on a book list, self promoted like crazy or given a huge marketing budget, fewer people will find it. 

Think about how you choose books.  Known Author?  Cover Art?  Browsing on the Internet?  Do you have a deliberate way of determining which book will occupy your valuable time and draw from your hard-earned money?  If you aren't looking for a specific book, you most often will resort to what I call the "Genre Hunt."  You seek out novels in a genre you have predetermined that you will want to read.  It is like picking a restaurant.  Do you want Mexican, Chinese, or the hard-to-define American food?  If you choose the latter, you often are in for a treat--a pie place, a steak place, a burger joint, a greasy spoon, a diner, drive-in or dive.  But, isn't it easier to know what you generally want first and then to determine from there what specifically you want? 

That is why these genres were created in the first place:  to facilitate marketing;  to reach the most people in the quickest and simplest way.  It has been successful.  And if your novel crosses genres?  Say you have a Modern Sci-Fi Romance?  Fine, you can put it in both genres.  You might be surprised that it sells more in Sci-Fi than in the Romance section, but who cares? 

Is your novel doomed if it doesn't fall neatly into a category?  Why, no.  Of course not.  It just means you need exceptionally good marketing, which you want anyway.  And, of course, you will have to do a fair amount of marketing yourself, which, again, your publisher and agent will probably expect this of you anyway, even if the novel was a pure genre story.  The bottom line is, don't define your novel as "undefinable" because you think it elevates your novel above the din of genres.  And, don't disdain the categories because they "limit" you and your writing.  Embrace them if you can.  Use them to show how you differentiate within that genre, not against it.  It will allow you to develop an audience and then you can jump out of genres because people will be looking for your NAME.  Won't that be nice?


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

What I've Learned About Writing

Next week I will be speaking to a local HS Writer's Club. I am looking forward to sharing my knowledge about what I have learned about writing. The assignment got me wondering about just some of the things I've learned recently.
#1)  Writing is a craft as much as an art.  It is more like sculpting than pottery.  We chisel away at the story more often than we take mud and form one. 

#2)  Inspiration for "stories" come unhindered and are often discarded, forgotten or "archived."  They rarely see the screen of our computers or the paper of our journals.  They exist in our minds.  And I am glad, because many of them need to stay right there in our own private novel sanctuaries.

#3)  Writing journals are as much a tool for finding our voice as they are a way to express ourselves.  When we write thinking of ourselves as our only audience, we learn to write what impacts us (this is mostly stream-of-consciousness, but effective, none-the-less).  Writing unfettered like this, we find the pace and the style that defines us as writers.  Our "voice" is commonly our inner selves leaking out into the pace, structure, content and tableau of our story.  A good writing journal challenges us to tap into this dynamic.

#4)  Writers are a jumpy bunch.  As I read comments on agent's and publisher's blogs, writer's websites and writer's groups, it becomes very plain that writer's have a fair store of anxiety about their writing.  Much of this anxiety can be attributed to their high degree of concern for their careers.  However, I can also sense why publishing has become such a competitive atmosphere.  You can read on internet sites like this one all day.  Thousands of words are produced each second, 90% of which is FREE.  The "competition for eyeballs" as Nathan Bransford, a literary agent, puts it, has become intense.  This creates agony, bewilderment and concern for anyone tied to making a living from the words they can type, the stories they can tell, the information they wish to broker.

#5)  Telling stories is part wonder, part science, part art, part systematic, and part i don't know what.  That's alot of parts, but if we assume we know the formula, I think then we have lost our way.  To every individual the beauty of a story is defined differently.  If I ask my son Seth, a very exacting literary critic to be sure, what he liked about Of Mice and Men, his comeback is "It was cool."  Well, cool notwithstanding, stories need to grab us in a very personal way.  And since we are all individually made up of different stuff and every story is a complicated sophistication--even stories as simple as Where the Wild Things Are--then that "grab" is different for every person and every story.  As writer's, the magic compilation is one that grabs the most hearts, touches the most lives, resonates within the most imaginations. 

The Harry Potter phenomenon is used as an example of this.  Stripped away of all its magic, dragons, evil wizards and Quidditch (which are all setting and important in their place), Rowlings' popular series is a chronicle of an orphaned boy coming of age and the tests, trials and wonderment of the loyalty found in friendship.  The Star Wars saga is similar.  Ignoring the lasers, the light sabers, the space ships, Wookies, Ewoks, Twileks and bounty hunters, and even the sophomoric romance plots, black caped conflicted bad guys, and Pod Races, we find an elementary story that resonates with thousands:  an epic clash of good versus evil, our proclivity as a race to define ourselves as either servants of the common good or machievellian machinists.

These books as well as thousands of others take us to other worlds, or within our own.  They transport us and this escape is what we demand when we pick up a book and from the first sentence determine that we are willingly going to suspend disbelief until the author fails us in some way.  Setting, backdrop, place, time, landscape, these things all help take us to those places of escape we desire.  But, it is the unfailing core of the story that we often love, whether we realize it or not.  We may remember the light saber battle, the assault on Helm's Hold, the line "you killed my father; prepare to die" or the white-washed fence of Tom Sawyer but it is the elemental conflicts within the story that shape its success.  That is why publishers, agents, writers, marketers and editors have such a problem determining what will "work."

Monday, November 2, 2009

Writing Away

Whew! Spent the weekend writing, mostly. Kicked off NaNoWriMo with a hefty 2,200 words and wrote and edited a 730-word article for Constant Content. I want to eek out some 500-1000 word articles each week and see what happens. Please check from time to time by clicking on the link over on the sidebar. I know I can churn out words and hold down a regular day job, but this will be a daunting task.

It is good to see some fellow WriMo's out there, Nate and Noel. It is encouraging to know you will be write there with me. Happy writing to you both and I am looking forward to reading your work.

Monday, October 26, 2009


Just stumbled upon NaNoWriMo. That weird acronym stands for National Novel Writing Month. The goal is to write a FIRST DRAFT of a 50,000 word novel. Sounds obscene, but I have determined to do it. My thought is that it is one way to prove that I can actually accomplish pushing out a full-length draft in 30 days.

Contest participants from all over the world enter--last year they logged 1.6 BILLION words! Each author can enter regions they want to represent and choose a "home" region. They enter the # of words they have written periodically, and when they finish the novel, they submit it for verification. Pretty awesome.

If you are interested in neglecting all you hold dear in November, think about joining in. I entered today and am working on an outline and some research to get the thing going. I am actually considering two books--Dark Mountain Mean, a thriller/suspense set in Arkansas and Vengeance Sisters, a fantasy novel. I am leaning toward Dark Mountain Mean, but we will see how the outline goes. I can't actually write the novel until November 1, but am looking forward to getting started.

If I really commit to this, then I guess I will have to put off finishing Corruption in Colombia until January--I had a goal of finishing the first draft by Christmas. Maybe this exercise will embolden me. Then, when I am finished polishing off Corruption in Colombia, I can work the NaNoWriMo novel into something publishable and I'll have TWO books to take to agents with another idea or two up my sleeve.

I am praying now and need more prayers daily to help me do these things and be successful.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

At Forty, a Lump of Coal

Ok, so I turn 40 today. Big deal. Just another day. Just another decade.

Part of me wants to celebrate--I have a son that just turned 18, I have 4 wonderful children, a beautiful and caring wife, and we all are healthy and happy. Except, part of me wants to lounge in the duldrums of my mediocrity and misadventures. I am not where I want to be, not nearly--as a Christian, as a father, as a husband, as an employee, as a writer, or as a citizen, a friend, a son, a brother or a reader of fine literature.

Are my expectations realistic? Probably not. Am I being hard on myself, maybe exhibiting a little too much self-loathing? Is it common to feel angst again at 40? I am, after all, just unhappy with MYSELF. I do not blame God, or my family or any external influences for my uneasiness with where I am or where I should be.

God puts these ambitions on my heart to spur me to action, not self-pity. But, perhaps, just like being converted, before we move forward, we have to realize how in NEED we are. Perhaps this feeling of inadequacy is the refining fire, the external pressure I need to turn from the lump of coal I feel I am to the diamond that God wants me to be.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Obama wins Nobel Peace Prize

Alright, right off the bat, politics. Ok, I just read the BBC version of this story. I cannot say that awarding the prize to Obama was a wise choice. Granted, his contenders have as many clear problems (and maybe more) than he does. Morgan Tsvangirai of Zimbabwe was actually considered the favorite to win the award. He has risen from a nickel mine foreman to be Prime Minister (at least a share of the title). He joins Robert Mugabi, the incumbent PM who has ruled with violence and has completely torched the Zimbabwe economy--one of the world's worst. However, despite his rise to share in governing his country, Mr. Tsvangirai was taped in 2002 discussing with Canadian media sources ways in which someone could carry out an assasination attempt on Mugabi. He was cleared of treason twice, once acquitted and once the charges were deemed "unconstitutional."

OK, maybe not the stiffest competition. It seems to me that the underlying problem is that when you are awarding a "peace" award, the candidates must exhibit traits that are peaceful or act in ways that bring about peace. Although I do not deny that Mr. Obama does desire peace, talks about peace and has met with world leaders to discuss peace, our world is no safer, no more peaceful than we were two or three years ago. I know. Give him time. But the award should be for doing something that promotes or creates peace, not just thinking about it or passionately supporting it.

I suppose what I am thinking is that Obama may turn things around in Iran, Afganistan, Iraq, Jerusalem, or even Mexico or right here in the good 'ole US of A. He may get a college football playoff, Major League Baseball players to stop taking growth hormones, or get the Mexican cartels to turn themselves and all their drugs over or maybe erect a wall to prevent illegal immigrants from being "mules" and allowing the drugs to even touch our soil in the first place. Maybe Mr. Obama will get Russia to actually completely de-arm their nuclear arsenal and we can do the same.

And if Obama does any one of these things (except the playoff, maybe), he will deserve to be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. And even win it, if he manages more than one of those assignments, as daunting as they are. But, so far, his choice for the Nobel Peace Prize was about as inappropriate and premature as awarding Tim Tebow the Heisman trophy before the season started. Let it play out. Let us see how this all pans out. Is it good that world leaders support Obama? Of course. Is it nice that America is actually getting begruding respect where once it was glaring ridicule and hatred? Why, yes, it is nice.

Let it be known that I am a republican. I am conservative. But, above all that, I am a patriot. I love America. And, I want to see her succeed. There is a bit of pride that an American won. It seems we have been shut out since 1993 for the Nobel Peace Prize in literature and that galls me. So, Obama won. Prematurely, to be sure, but in my mind it is an American "win," whether it is deserved or not. Hooray. Now go out and do something to deserve it, I guess. And that does not mean pushing a national health care plan through or allowing gays to get married. Do something in areas where you are strong--global PR, bringing people together and galvanizing peace. That will be your victory, Mr. President.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

First Blog

This is the first of many blogs to come. Topics will be all over the map: writing, fishing, reading, Bible, kids, homeschooling, politics, current events, sports, etc.

I am writing several novels (not all at once, but close). The one on which I am currently working is at 1/3 of the rough draft. I know that sounds boring, but as I get the draft finished, I am going to need volunteers to read it. It falls into either "literary fiction," or "commercial fiction." These labels are vague and ambiguous, but basically, the novel will not be genre fiction (mystery, suspense, thriller, fantasy, romance, etc.).

This novel takes place in the cartel-infested country of Colombia (yes, an alliteration). I have the chapter outline finished, but know that it will probably change again. It has changed four times already. But I remain excited and hungry to get this published. I know it is a good story and I feel strongly that I am doing a fine job writing it.

My other novels include a fantasy novel and a historical fiction story about Blennerhassett Island and the legend surrounding Aaron Burr and his attempt to secede from the United States during Thomas Jefferson's presidency. This was AFTER he gunned down Alexander Hamilton in their infamous duel--which has a fascinating history, by the way.

I realize my writing is technically very spread out, but it reflects my interests. History, fantasy, and getting published. That is why I am writing Corruption in Colombia (working title), to get published. It is the most commmercially viable and ready-to-go idea I have in the works. Other ideas present themselves from time-to-time, but I haven't really reacted to them yet.

This blog will be where I will keep everyone updated, market my work, leave my thoughts, information about research I am doing and general "stuff" as it interests me. Hope you enjoy! Tell your friends!