I Win

There are a couple of different ways I was thinking about opening this entry, not the least of which consisted of a lot of “oh my god oh my god oh my gods” and “Holy crap. Holy crap holycrap holycrapholycrapholycrap!” .  . . and since my brain is currently jello I will leave it at that for now.
I did it. A month ahead of my self-imposed deadline, I freaking did it. Gestalt is now officially the second full manuscript that I have ever completed.

One second . . . .

OH MY GOD! YES!!! *does a victory lap around the house* I DID IT!! YES!

*ahem* . . . . *catches breath*

I’m good now.

The past year has been a learning experience, to say the very least. While, with Ethereal Heart, I had the assistance of a very talented friend, I am more proud of myself with the completion of the first draft of Gestalt because it’s mine. All mine. I did it by myself, at all hours of the day and night, with nothing but caffeine, cigarettes and the encouragement of the people who love me pushing me ever forward. I fought with the muse, tortured the muse, the muse tortured me—let’s just say the Geneva Convention was thrown out the window around chapter five—and I came out on top. I won the battle, and now my muse gets a brief (and much needed) break while I run edits before I dive into book two.
This was my first real step to fulfilling my dream of being published. The easy stuff is over, and the hard stuff is just beginning. All I can say is: Bring it on. There’s nothing I can’t do. I just proved that to myself.
355 pages, 91,491 words. And I’m ready for more.


P.S. Also, a very happy birthday to my brother, Ben! Love you, Aniki!


New Starts? Yes, Please!

Have you ever been so tired that . . . *five minutes later* . . . I can’t think of a single logical or riveting simile or metaphor. That’s how far gone I am.

We’ve been at it since I got off work Thursday morning and haven’t stopped. We are officially moved with the exception of a few minor details and I have never been happier. I will say, however that roughly eight hours of sleep in three days does not make for a productive atmosphere. Not to mention my EVERYTHING hurts. Three flights of stairs to the new place may have been a bad idea for the move itself, but we just couldn’t resist the vaulted ceilings (and hey, at least we weren’t making our friends lug a pool table up those stairs)!

I am so excited for the move not only to be getting away from the shithole of a location that we had but also because it will be quieter. And I have my own writing space. We may have moved from a three bedroom to a one bedroom, but because of our previous situation I feel that I will have more privacy in the long run. We’re putting up a partition in the dining room so I can have my space for writing. My new little desk is set up in the corner beside the back door which leads to the substantial porch and I even have space enough for my printer and bookshelf. It won’t be grandiose, but it doesn’t have to be. Once it gets cooler outside and I have the patio furniture I’m hoping to be able to sit out there and smoke hooka and write, as well.

This is it. This is where Gestalt and Nostrum (book 2) will be finished. I can feel it. This is where I will finally finish edits on Ethereal Heart, and hopefully not hate it as much as I do right now. This is where I will host my Round Tables with my friends with copious amounts of coffee and all-nighters with the hopes of landing an agent and hopefully later publication.

And this is where I slink off to decide if I should catch up on sleep, soak my tattered muscles in my new garden tub with a good book, or pull out the old manuscripts and get to work on the future.

Right now . . . that Garden Tub is looking pretty inviting.



The Reason

No, not the Hoobastank song. This is my reason.

A few nights ago, while at my ‘normal’ job, a co-worker watched me as I lugged my industrial Laser Jet printer into the office and set up the fifteen pound machine in my little corner of the call center. There were only three of us in the building so late at night, and thus I honestly didn’t give a shit if one of the other two took issue with my plans. To be fair, I warned him ahead of time, and he took my insanity with a smile and a chuckle, like he always does. This co-worker, by the way, is the epitome of awesome. I could not ask for a better person to sit diagonally from on those long, annoying, painful, terrible nights where all I would like to do is reach through the phone and strangle the people on the other end of the line. This co-worker is also not a stranger to my eccentricities. He knows I’m a writer. We’ve talked about it. He supports me every night that we work together and is always asking how the ‘scripts are coming. He always asks me in a genuine manner, too. Never forced conversation or out of politeness. To put it bluntly: this man rocks.

By the time I was finished with my set up, my little niche of a desk looked like the worst example of your father’s idea of his best idea ever of hanging Christmas lights and jamming the plugs into one outlet. Cables were re-arranged, slung across my three-foot wide steely gray desk, down behind the translucent black plastic that served as a sound buffer between what I can only think to call the cubicles. My laptop and its seventeen inch screen shared the desk with the sleek twenty two inches of the flat-screen monitors provided by my employer, and, of course, the phone.  The headset attached to said phone, which I use for my actual job to talk to actual customers with somewhat actual problems, stretched from its jack in the back that I then twisted from a hole in the partition of the metal between the cubicles and laced through my belt loop before fitting it comfortably on my head. This I did to give me enough slack to move around.

Now, at 1 o’clock in the morning there’s a lot of idle time where I work. It was because of that I decided to drag my monster of a printer into work. I could kill two birds with one stone. My goal was to begin edits on a different (and complete) manuscript to get my mind off of Gestalt for a little while and refresh my brain with something slightly different. In order to facilitate not fucking this process up I want a physical copy to edit. After all was said and done there was barely enough room for my chair. I decided to kick it out into the aisle. Standing was a better option at that point.

My co-worker listened to the whirring the printer made as I proceeded to dish out chapter after chapter of the current draft of the manuscript. Section by section the pages slowly built up, were hole-punched roughly twenty at a time and filed into the two and a half inch red three ring binder. Three hundred and eighty pages, five remote desktop sessions with customers, two hours and three paper jams later I clicked off the power to the printer, pulled my chair back over, and slumped down into as if I’d just run the March of Dimes 5k on Auditorium Shores and won.

Upon hearing my exasperated sigh, my co-worker looked up from his computer screen and asked me, “Why do you write?”

My answer was immediate. Unrehearsed. Raw. Ask any writer, published or not, why they write and the answer will always be the same.

“Because I have to,” they will tell you. And tell him that I did.

Then I thought on it for a moment. The reasons for this knee-jerk reaction vary from writer to writer. Some think they have the next Great American Novel on their hands. They are egotistical enough to throw themselves into the same ranks as Mark Twain, Steinbeck, Faulkner. They are Hell-bent on being published for such a credit and a footnote in history as one of “The Greats”. Others feel they have something they have to say. They have honed and crafted their skills for their writing careers to make a commentary on life, on politics, on religion or society or some fault in the system. Some just do it for the money, thinking that there is a grandiose paycheck waiting for them around the corner if someone would just take the hint that they are the next J.K Rowling or Dan Brown.

I actually laughed at my own absurdity as I mustered all of the sanity within me to add, “Because my characters won’t shut up until I tell their story. It doesn’t matter if anyone else ever reads these things that I have spent years of my life developing, molding, twisting; the stories simply must exist or my characters will drive me to lunacy.”

Only after I said that did it, ironically, fortify my own understanding of myself. I know the odds of being a successful author are stacked against me. Would the money be nice? Fuck yes, but I don’t realistically anticipate living like Stephen King anytime soon, if ever. Would I like to get published? Of course. That’s the secondary reason I write. I don’t care about the money so much as I do about telling a good story. I want to be able to have my novels plucked off of a Half Price Books store bookshelf by someone, the same way I do now, to take home and curl up next to by the window with a rum and coke on a stormy evening, or prop open on the porch to enjoy with a tall glass of lemonade on a summer day. I want my stories to be companions that won’t judge you, but will draw the audience in, make them forget what time it is and say “Sit a while and listen to my story.”

Maybe, if I’m lucky, that one action will pull someone through a dark spot in their life. Maybe, if I’m really lucky, that person will see a piece of themselves in my characters and recommend the book to their best friend.

My stories are not laced with layers upon layers of meaning and secret codes and commentary on the world around us. I’m not looking to change the world with my stories. I know I won’t bring about revolution. I know I won’t stem the tide between good and evil. I’m not so naive to think that I single-handedly have that influence. But perhaps, if the powers-that-be decree it, I can make a modest living off of my passion while simultaneously allowing you to forget about real life. Of lost jobs, road rage, strained relationships and broken hearts for a little while by diving into another world.



Ten Things An Unpublished Writer Can’t Afford NOT To Do

I can’t sleep (surprise, surprise) so I was doing research online and stumbled across this little gem. I decided to share it in hopes of inspiring my fellow aspiring authors, as well. Many of the tips here are no-brainers, but they sort of drive the point home that at least I appear to be doing the majority of things correctly in my pursuit of publishing.

Via http://www.jtellison.com/top-10-list-for-unpublished-au/

Top Ten Things An Unpublished Writer Can’t Afford NOT To Do:

1. The Organizations
The list of writer’s organizations is long and varied. Start here. Sisters in Crime (SinC), Mystery Writers of America (MWA) and Romance Writers of America (RWA) take unpublished members. Yes, it costs money to join. (SinC $40, MWA $95, RWA $95). Just do it. Scrounge for pennies in the couch, give up the lattes. It must be done.

2. The Subgroups
For minimal fees, you can join subgroups of these organizations. When I fist started out, I belonged to Guppies, the SinC Chapter expressly for the Great Unpublished Writers out there. I also belonged to the SinC Internet Chapter and my Middle Tennessee SinC Chapter. This takes it up another $40. Now I belong to SEMWA, the Southeast Chapter of MWA, Mid-TN Sinc, and MCRW - Music City Romance Writers. The value-add of local groups is invaluable.

3. The Web Threads

This too is free. It’s earned media, plain and simple. There is a thread for every genre, every idea, every group. The ones I belong to I joined because I know I can learn from the members. Some are public (DorothyL, Rara-Avis, Short Mystery, Murder Must Advertise.) Some are offshoots of the organizations above. A word to the wise – lurk for at least two weeks to get a general sense of what the thread is really about. You don’t want to pop up the first day, shoot off your mouth and embarrass yourself. Some lists are a little clubby, and they’ll appreciate a gentler introduction. And now there's Twitter and Facebook and a billion other online resources.

4. The Magazines (Print and Online)
For hard copy, I recommend Writer's Digest. (If you’re an MWA member, you get a discount) There's Publishers Weekly, but it's pricey.Once you get going in your career, there are many, many magazines to choose from. Crimespree, The Strand, Mystery Scene, all are great resources.
Online – Publisher's Marketplace is the place to be. You can set up a website (See Mine), research agents and publishers, stay on top of the deals being made, read book reviews, really, is there anything PM can’t do? Yes, it’s another chunk -- $20 a month. But that’s how I got my agent...

5. Critique Groups

I am blessed to belong to the BMW’s, otherwise known as the Bodacious Music City Wordsmiths. There are 8 of us, published and unpublished. We meet the 2nd and 4th Wednesday of the month. Those who are producing bring 10 pages of their WIP (or a short story) to be read ALOUD to the group. We then proceed to the critique portion of the program. Sometimes it’s ugly. Sometimes it’s just too damn funny for words. I’ve never left a BMW meeting without learning.
CG’s are a bitch to find. They’re worth their weight in gold when you do. If you don’t have a local MWA or SinC chapter to plumb, Guppies has a wonderful online critique group.
Just a little advice. NEVER let anyone make you feel like your work isn’t worth their time. If that’s the case, they aren’t worth yours.

6. The Conferences
All I can say is ouch. When you don’t have advance money to offset the registration fees, the hotel and the airfare, it’s going to take a bite out of your wallet. I attended ThrillerFest on my own dime the first year, and it’s pretty painful. But you can’t make money without spending money. I keep repeating that one.
Conferences are invaluable. You meet like-minded individuals, make friends, learn tons, and come away with the Holy Grail of Writing – contacts.

Bouchercon, ThrillerFest and Malice Domestic are the Holy Trinity of Conferences. But there are others. My first was Murder in the Magic City, this February, in Birmingham. Cost me $40 and a tank of gas. I met a lot of people, including some of the Boys of Noir there (Duane Swierczynski, Victor Gischler, Harry Hunsicker, Jim Born and Sean Doolittle.) I was inspired to try some short stories and noir flash. So it’s a good thing to go and meet people. You broaden your mind. (And yes, everyone who knows me knows I got the worst case of professionally shys and wasted the whole morning being too reticent to approach the authors, so shame on me. I could have learned more.) Networking is 9/10th of the law. We’ll cover that more in a later post, because it’s so important. Networking online works just as well as in person, but it’s not nearly as fun.
Do your research. There are plenty of regional conferences in your backyard if you look for them. There are some fun ones listed in Upcoming Events, too.

7. Independent Readers

This one can be a little tricky. Your Mom doesn’t count. Neither does your next door neighbor. I classify an independent reader as someone you’ve never met, so they can be objective. Like a therapist. Someone who will tell you the truth and not worry about hurting your feelings. And trust me, you’ll need an IR. I met one of mine on a web threads after we realized we shared the same taste in material. She’s a star. Caught the spot where I gave it all away in my first book, ALL THE PRETTY GIRLS. I rewrote it because of her.
Readers, period. Yes, your mom counts for this. Ignore her comments about sentence structure, but get her opinion. You’re looking for story flow here, realistic characters, setting. Things that make a book. I know so many people who don’t let anyone read their work before they submit. Personally, I think that’s a mistake. And don’t worry about copyright infringement or plagiarism. Really, if they could do it, wouldn’t they have done it already?
Dutch Uncles. Some people call them mentors. There should be people in your life who always have your back, who put you on their shoulders, cheer loudly, and are there when you need to vent. I met mine at a book signing for the wonderful NYT best-selling author John Connolly. (If you haven’t read his Charlie Parker series, get thee to a bookstore now. You won’t regret it.) Connolly’s media escort was a local woman. She’s a brash, in your face type with a heart of gold. We started chatting and I told her that I was a writer. She says, “Aren’t you a member of Sisters in Crime? Don’t you belong to a critique group? Don’t you know any of the people here?” She was incredulous. I was entranced. I took her advice, and it was worth taking. Now she counsels me, in life and in writing, and I don’t know where I’d be without her.

8. Read

Read everything you can get your hands on. In the genre, out of the genre, non-fiction, bathroom walls if you have to. The top selling books are selling for a reason. If you write regional knitting cozies, you need to know the work of every regional knitting cozy writer that’s out there. Find out what works for you and what doesn’t. Emulate the voice and style of your favorite writers. After a while, once you’ve read enough, your own voice will poke through, and you’ll catch yourself saying “I would have written that differently.” Or “If he had just used the word kerfuffle there, it would have had more impact.” Once you catch yourself correcting the work of your masters, you’re ready for number 9.

9. Write

Write Every Day. Let me repeat this. WRITE EVERY DAY. Sit in the chair and write. If you can’t work on your WIP, edit it. If that’s not working for you, pretend you’re taking my place on Fridays and write a blog entry. Start a blog of your own and talk about your writing. Write a short story. Write down the dream you had last night. Write your grocery list from your character’s perspective. Pretend you are being besieged by crows and you must write a good-bye note to Aunt Wanda. I don’t care if it’s 40 emails. Write, write, write. Gear all of your writing to your work, and you’ll get comfortable writing every day.
Submit too. Yes, you’ll get rejections. What’s good for the goose isn’t always good for the gander. Perseverance should be every writer’s middle name. If your novel isn’t selling, write some short stories. Do flash fiction. Write an article about the pains of becoming a world class writer. There are so many ways to get your name in lights, you should never be at a loss for places to submit.

10. Balls
As in you’ve gotta have ‘em if you want to make it in this industry. Publishing is a harsh world. When world-class writers with dozens of books to their name can lose their publishers, it tells you something. A couple of months ago, a gentleman mused, rhetorically, I think, about why we do it. Why do we write and set ourselves up for rejection? It’s an excellent question. I do it because I feel compelled to share. I chose this road three years ago, and I haven’t regretted it once. Money would be nice, but the satisfaction I get out of creating something from nothing, breathing life into fictional characters and making my readers care about them, is priceless. And seeing your words in someone else’s font is pretty special too.
This is the part where I tell you that you have to believe in yourself, because if you don’t, no one else will. And I mean it.



Life is a Lemon and I Want My Money Back

They say that if a million monkeys were put into a room with a million type-writers for a ridiculous number of hours that at some point during that time one of them could write a best-selling novel. Maybe if I beat my head against the keyboard for long enough the images that are in my head will quickly spread onto the word processor.
Or, you know, maybe it’ll spray my brains all over the laptop screen.
Either way, this is getting stupid. In about a month I have only written 15,000 words. That’s beyond unacceptable to me. NaNoWriMo guys can write 50k in a month, so why can’t I hit half of that? The sad part is that I really have been busting ass at it. I’ve been writing before I go to work and I have been writing at work (sometimes 2,000 words a night) religiously, because it is my second (un-paying for now) job, for the past 30 days. So, what gives, Oh Writing Gods on High?! Are all of my words being sucked into a black hole to pay thee homage as a finders’ fee? You guys suck up there and in the words of Meat Loaf: I want my money back!
Somehow, despite all of the AWOL words, I have managed to complete Aimee’s second section and have started with Kay’s. I was talking with a fellow (published) writer who had advised me that because of the subject matter and the fact that it is my first novel, the publishers will probably frown upon anything as long as I plan on making this thing. That being the case . . . once I am finished with my drafts and am ready to send it out, if it is long enough (or too long as the case may be), I may splice it into two books and make my planned second book a third book.
I really don’t want to do a trilogy. Really. No, I mean it. People who are first starting off in writing always go for that first. As if, in order to be a great writer you must have a best-selling trilogy under your belt! (See JRR Tolkien, Brent Weeks, Margaret Weis, Douglas Adams, etc.). As if, somehow, their created world is the next best thing to godliness and all hail their lore and legend! I don’t want to fall into the category of “Pretentious hack who thinks she can write a best-selling trilogy but falls flat on her face because she’s too proud of her shit”. This is exactly the way I picture every single editor and agent thinking while they roll their eyes and chunk my manuscript into their trash bin to burn at their weekly bon-fires.
Two book series, fine. Trilogy: not my first choice.
Official Word count: 77,511. Three and a half sections down, three and a half more to go!


“Like anything worth writing it came inexplicably and without method”

I’m just over half way through this draft of Gestalt, and for the past 100 pages or so I have been mulling over my most hated aspect of this process. It’s an aspect that I loathe more than editing, more than nit-picking, more than trimming and re-arranging and testing and re-writing COMBINED. I have to start seriously thinking about . . . the dreaded query letter.


I’ve been preparing. Slowly but surely my long list of a blog-roll has been skimmed and sifted through and linked and linked back and traced and dotted and highlighted, circled and underlined a gazillion times while I prepare in the back of my mind exactly how I am going to sell myself to an agent.

Nathan Bransford is my first choice as a literary agent. He also seemed to have a hard time talking about query letters and the basic synopsis. In fact, in his blog post about the synopsis he tries to hold off as long as possible without delving into detail. The problem with them is that there is no method to them. There is not script. There is not a single line that anyone can tell you about how to write the perfect synopsis. Just like with writing a novel: It has to come from you.

It’s so difficult to write the novel to begin with, but then to chop it all down into less than a page (ok, two paragraphs) worth of “Look at me! I can SELL!” is where things are going to be obnoxiously difficult. I’m not a sales person, so finding a streamline way of summarizing Gestalt that is tailored to my prospective agents without it seeming like “just another query letter” may drive me to drink . . .

Oh, wait, too late.

For now I suppose I will focus on the novel itself, and let the process mill a little more in the back of my mind until the fire is hot enough, the ingredients just right, to start formulating an epic pitch for this novel.

May the Gods guide my path.




More Cow Bell, Less Migraine

This was going to be a Vblog post, but I’m too lazy right now.

A lot of fun stuff happening. My truck is finally fixed. This comes after it’s been sitting in Ben’s drive for close to a year now, I finally updated my website with character profiles and a whole new look (of which I am seriously considering doing more character sketches for), my birthday is next week, and I don’t go back to TNI until the night of the 16th, hurray for weeks off. Note how I didn’t say from work. No. I’ll still be working. I’ll just be working on what I love. I think I can get about 10,000 words done over the next ten days. A thousand words a day, if not more. That’s feasible, right? I think it is. I hope it is.

Remember how I said “On the 50k word mark note: I think it’s all down-hill from here.”? Yeah, well, I lied. I was trying to think positively and failed miserably. It’s still grueling even though I have a massive amount of notes and even more massive amount of plot embedded into my gray matter. Kay’s first section is complete. I’m about five chapters into Aimee’s second section and I have just over five months to finish this thing to meet my self-imposed deadline. After about ten years of planning you would think a full year to get it all down on paper is enough time. Despite busting my ass night after night, for some reason it still doesn’t seem like enough time. The fantastic thing is that I am actually doing it. It’s not like how I used to be where I would say “Oh yeah my new year’s resolution is to finish my novel.” and then I write all of twelve pages and stop. It’s up to two hundred and forty some-odd pages now.

I think I may go mad before it’s all done.

So, 10,000 words. Ten days. It’s a mini NaNoWriMo. I dunno, though, I’m thinking of just printing out what I have thus far and editing like a mad woman. I know that everyone, including myself, says don’t edit as you write, and I know I have to move forward with it before I should worry about the little crap details. But it’s there. And it’s tempting. Very tempting.

It’s also been over two weeks. I think we need another writing round table. Maybe either the end of next week or the week after.




And Now For Something Completely Different (Video Blog)

It’s late . . . or early . . or, whatever. Thought I’d try this new thing. I say “Uhm” way too much and probably should have had a more thorough outline of what I was going to say about the book I am reviewing here, among other things. Yes I DID know the Author's name before I started the video, but I've been up for nearly 24 hours and had a brain fart. hence the pause. I’ll try to get a better camera and microphone soon. But for now, hurray for randomness.




Luck Matters (And a Thank You)

This blog post is a long time coming. I meant to post it last week, but everything swept me up in a riptide. Aside from hitting my 50,000 word mark on Gestalt (YAY! Roughly halfway finished!!!), we had our first real creative writing group meeting last Thursday night! I have to say: I have never been more impressed with a creative writing group. The talent among my friends is unparalleled. I’m not saying that just because they are my friends, but because they truly are a fantastic group of writers. I count myself, not simply lucky, but honored to have these people in my life. Honest and nearly tangible feedback mixed with great recommended reading and awesome over all writing discussion made it the best night I’ve had as a writer since I graduated high school.

There were only a few of us in attendance, but that’s perfectly fine. I like it that way. We can each read more pages and get better feedback on our respective pieces. Those who did show up had a fantastic first day, and I can’t wait until the next one!

On the 50k word mark note: I think it’s all down-hill from here. My plot notes are there in complete clarity. I have a few tweaks that need to be made and a few details I need to sort out, but I feel that I will finally finish a piece of writing that I am proud of beyond a shadow of a doubt and will willingly submit to anyone wishing to read the adventures of the voices in my head. I hope that I can put my heart and soul into a story that will tug at emotional tethers and be laugh-out-loud funny, all for the purpose of pure entertainment.

I think this time, with the constant backing of all of you who have helped to hold me aloft through my creative process, all the ups and the downs and the rants and the exciting newness of it all, I can attain that goal. Basically, at the half way mark of the story: I love you, and I couldn’t walk this road as well as I have been thus far without your encouragement. Thank you.




Herding Cats - Hardcore Critique Guidelines

A few weeks back I posted something about how I needed to get an RT group together. I still need to do that. I need to find the right people and manipulate schedules to make this happen. Unfortunately if I am the only one who is serious about doing the RT, then I will be sitting alone in my apartment with portions of a manuscript printed out that no one else has laid eyes on but me. So, central Texas writers, email me, Aim me, Facebook me, text me, call me, I don’t friggin’ CARE. If you want to share manuscripts LET ME KNOW! Because I want to, as well!!!

Speaking of serious critiques, I found this online a while back and only recently rediscovered it. I thought it would be appropriate considering I’m trying to get a group together—which seems to be like herding cats.

Original Author: Amy Sterling Casil

Found on: http://www.sfwa.org

When we criticize work, we are commenting for the purposes of publishability, and our goal is to help authors to become publishable and published writers.

For prose pieces, the following issues are critically important:

  1. Plot – does the action make sense? Is what is written moving the story forward? Sometimes, the pieces are too short or are fragments, so a complete plot analysis isn’t possible. Most pieces can be judged within the first few sentences for effective plot beginnings, however. That’s what editors do.
    1. Does the story start at the right place (the beginning?) Most stories by beginning writers start far too early – way before the key action takes place. Some, however, may start too far forward. These writers have taken the advice of “start with the action at full steam” too literally.
    2. Is the pacing appropriate to the story? Too fast? Too slow? Just right?
    3. Is the plot a real plot (a character, in context, with a problem)? Are things happening which seem to have no discernable reason or purpose?
    4. Are there unconvincing coincidences passing for plot? “I saw Prunella at the A & P that afternoon. I couldn’t believe it when she told me that she had the other half of the key to the Ancient Peruvian Treasure Box which I had been seeking, the very one which had brought upon the murder of Uncle Henry by the ravening pirates.”
    5. The ending: is the payoff adequate to the buildup? Does the ending make sense? Is it satisfying? Does it arise from character and situation or is it “deus ex machina,” where the Cavalry suddenly comes riding in over the hill to save the hero and heroine? Most importantly: were the seeds of the ending sown in the beginning?
  2. Hook – Is the beginning adequate to catch the reader’s interest? Another key issue related to publishability. Is there the proper balance of action, dramatization, and narrative? Sometimes, more narrative is needed, as in the pieces where the author will begin with a lot of unattributed dialog. The dialog might be saying exciting things, like:

“I’ll kill you, Jim!”

“No you won’t, I’ll rip your arms out of their sockets first.”

“Darn you, Jim! Just pass me that ketchup.”

OK, here’s killing, anger, conflict . . . but who? Where? Who cares? Other beginning errors include hooks that are a bit too strong: and I’ve seen child abuse, rape, incest, this type of thing. The reader has to care about the story and characters first, not be thrown into a situation from which they will instinctively recoil.

  1. Characterization – are the people of the story believable? In the case of some of the work we’ve seen, one wonders if the characters which are being written about are people. Some beginning writers use genderless, nameless characters. While this might have been done in some avant-garde writing, this isn’t usually the type of writing which is accepted in the SF world.Urge the basics:
    1. Names – good ones – indicative of character, which make sense. “Tom, Dick and Harry” just don’t cut it. With all the great names in the world, let’s promote some creativity in character-naming.
    2. Dialog and action fits with and supports character. Meek, sensitive characters shouldn’t scream or suddenly pull out Ninja weapons unless it’s a comic piece.
    3. Gender, place, time, dress and manner of characters should all go together to support good characterization.
    4. Physical descriptions are appropriate to the piece. A viewpoint character should not be able to describe himself, unless it’s integral to the plot. The good ‘ol, “Susie sees herself in a mirror” trick should always be pointed out to the author. Physical description of viewpoint characters can be done indirectly, by the reactions of others to the character and the character’s own interaction with the world of the story.
  2. Point of View – whose story is being told and who is telling it?
    1. Omniscient narrators are pretty much on the outs in the current publishing world. The omniscient narrator hops from head to head, from scene to scene and place to place and there is no single point of view or voice, other than the author’s.
    2. First-person narrator. A difficult voice for the beginner, though many people often think it is “easy.” The first-person narrator can only tell what he experiences and knows. This can be a powerful, but also a limiting voice. It is often thought to bring the reader into the story, but poorly-done first person narration has the opposite effect. The reader becomes aggravated by the character, and generally quits reading. A good example of when first-person narration is inappropriate: stories told by people who are dead or in comas, unless it’s a horror or surrealistic story.Of course, Dalton Trumbo’s, “Johnny Got His Gun,” the famous World War I story, was told from the point of view of Johnny who had no arms, legs, eyes and was deaf from a war wound – a unique and effective story not likely to be repeated.
    3. Third-person narrator. Also called, “limited third-person point of view.” This is the most common narrative style used in novels and short stories. The technique uses limited authorial intrusion, and done properly, can bring the reader in as close to the story or closer to it than can first-person narration. A point-of-view character is selected and the story told from that character’s perspective.
    4. Common mistakes include:
      1. Head-hopping: switching back and forth between different characters’ thoughts and opinions.
      2. POV slipping: telling something that the POV character couldn’t possibly know.
      3. WRONG point-of-view character. Sometimes stories are told from the wrong character’s point of view. This is an error in plot, related to the point-of-view issue. If the author more fully understood the story’s plot, he or she would have automatically and easily chosen the appropriate character to “tell” the story.
  3. Style – is the writing appropriate to the story? Style is subjective, but true errors in style are glaringly obvious.
    1. Tone. Is a serious story being told in a flippant tone? Or a comical story told in a plodding, self-conscious style? Most common, especially with younger writers: inappropriate irony, otherwise known as “smarting off.”
    2. Anachronisms or Freudian slips. In historical stories, are characters using modern phrases? Or, do inappropriate comments slip into the narrative, for instance, in a tense scene of financial intrigue, does one character suddenly say to another, “I love your see-through blouse, Frieda?” Are characters acting appropriately for their age and stage in life?
    3. Usage/Confusion errors. The gerund problem is among these. “Pulling on his boots, he leapt to the door with his gun.” Gerunds used in this manner are usually associated with two unrelated clauses jammed together with a comma. The author needs to use separate sentences which portray clear and understandable action and narrative. This is lazy, confused writing.Psychologically, I think it signifies a confusion as to what the appropriate story and/or action is, because most often, I’ve seen very beginning writers do it when they are tired or bored and don’t know what to do with the story.Misplaced modifiers and split infinitives also fall into this category.

Sentence fragments? Sometimes they are appropriate, if they seemed planned or intentional and are not excessively used.

    1. “Taking the reader for granted.” Otherwise known as “The urge to explain.” The great phrase, “RUE” or “Resist the Urge to Explain,” is used in the book Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, by Browne and King.

“I’ll never darken your doorstep again, you thieving hussy!” Johnny slammed the door furiously. He was angry. He had never been so angry in his life. [Thank you, author, I got it the first time . . .]

Simply put, authors make this error when they use dialog, narrative summary and action to accomplish the same purpose. Dialog and action can both be strong methods of communicating plot developments; narrative summary less-so, but it has its place.

“Thirty years passed and Monica had never kissed another man.” That’s narrative summary – preferable to detailing Monica’s turn-downs of men over a 30-year period.

    1. Lack of variation in sentence length or sentence structure. Too many short sentences? Too many long, run-on sentences? A long sentence or two can be interesting, but not *every* sentence. An ungrammatical, confusing sentence is exactly that, and is never good writing.
    2. Excessive use of passive voice. Passive voice is often mistaken for the past-perfect tense. Passive voice refers to the reversal of the “normal” subject/verb order of a sentence. Tenses of verbs serve to indicate time and order of events. When writing about the past, or indicating various moods, past-perfect verbs are very useful, and they have nothing to do with “passive voice.”"Bob hit the ball” is “active” voice, the normal sentence order in English.”The ball was hit by Bob” is passive voice. The subject, “the ball,” comes before the verb.

You might see something like “The speech by Mayor Bob was given in his usual sarcastic tone.” Normal sentence order would be: “Mayor Bob gave the speech in his usual sarcastic tone.”

Passive voice isn’t a major point in fiction writing: if it is used to excess, there are usually other severe problems in plot and style which are more harmful than passive voice alone.

    1. Internal dialog passing for emotions or plot. Many beginning writers do this. At its most extreme, the internal dialog is actually the author’s own thoughts as they ruminate along the page, not those of the character. “What would Mary do? Would she fire the gun at John, or would she turn it on herself? What would happen if she fired the gun at the floor? How could she ever decide?” Please, Mary, decide. Please, author, don’t tell us what happened until Mary decides. Sometimes, this sort of internal dialog can be unintentionally hilarious, like the authors who are going along with the story and suddenly say, “this is really boring. When is this going to be over?” Soon, I hope.
  1. Dialog: is it good? A good ear for dialog is something which is difficult to learn. It’s easy to spot when a writer is good at dialog. Conversations should be believable and serve to advance the plot. Good dialog is not realistic dialog, it is dialog which advances the story, shows character and echoes in the reader’s mind.
    1. “Maid and Butler dialog” is dialog where two characters tell each other things they already know. It is often used to attempt to tell backstory or to explain concepts the author thinks the reader won’t understand. In SF, we know this as the “infodump.”
    2. Flowery dialog: sometimes found in Romance writing, Historical writing or Fantasy writing, these are characters who speak language which never issued from a human mouth. High language can be appropriate in all of those genres, but dialog like this:

“Margaret, your lips are as sweet as the nectar from a honeyed buttercup,” Lord Brockston Bragg ejaculated.

“Oh, Brockston, I can feel your . . . it’s . . . it’s pulsating, Brockston,” Margaret exhaled.

. . . is never appropriate.

    1. Bad tags. “Said” is fine, as well as the occasional whisper or shout, indicating volume (but even that’s not necessary). Bad tags include “exhaled,” “ejaculated,” “shrieked,” “sputtered,” “muttered,” “murmured,” and all other verbs attributed to a line of dialog instead of appropriate action, description and good dialog which speaks for itself.Marianne cupped her hand by my ear. “He’s going to try it now. Just watch,” she said. Whispering is pretty much understood.Bob sighed and opened his mouth, then sighed again. “Can’t,” he said at last. “Can’t do it.” (Beats “stuttered,” or “sputtered,” followed by “Bob stuttered. He had stuttered since he was seven and the Burnsey boys had whipped him behind Old Man Gruenpfluegel’s barn.”)
  1. Originality and creativity. The most important part! We should be encouraging people to use their imaginations and to think beyond the first ideas which pop into their heads. Cliched plots and characters and situations, like “Worldmaster Gray” and “the spacefaring couple who crash on a planet and turn out to be . . . Adam and Eve!” fall into this area. Originality in character, plot and setting is very important and goes a long way toward contributing to the quality of any kind of fiction writing.