Category Archives: Articles

Attack of the Nefarious Google Beast

googlemapI like maps, planned destinations, hotel reservations, heated pools and chocolate croissants. I like research and travel books and poring over online reviews and intimate knowledge of space and place before I get there. And yet somehow the best part of the journey is always the unplanned detour or the unexpected stop. It’s there I find the ultimate souvenir, the perfect picture or the barbecue ribs worth dying for.

When I got the idea for HitList, it wasn’t so much that I found it, as it found me. I was just merrying along, writing my Well-Planned Book (about something else entirely), when The Beast (aka HitList) came, knocked me across the teeth and took over my brain.

I was helpless to stop. I knew it derailed me, but there was something so compelling about it—I couldn’t look away. Each word made me eager for the next. I couldn’t stop writing—I had to find out what happened. And this experience showed me that while there are intentions, plans and plots, there is the thrill of riding the story and letting it take you. Amazingly, by the time The Beast left, I had a book–a better book than the one I’d planned.

So, I was not completely surprised when some innocent and well-intended research on my googlemap streetviewcurrent WIP turned into something else. The Nefarious Google Beast blindsided me and dragged me into an alley, where it threw me in the trunk of a waiting car. I was just sitting there, staring at something on Google maps and one thought led to another, which led to a sentence, and turned into a page and I’m starting to wonder if there might be a book attached.

It may only be a short story, it could be a meandering diversion down the rabbit hole and back, but right now I simply can’t wait to get to the next sentence. Oh, what next? What next? Where are you taking me, Nefarious Google Beast?

I may end up miles away next week with nothing to show for it but a short story and a tattoo I don’t remember getting, but heck…I think I’m gonna go along for the ride.

Getting Professional Help or Why I Hired an Editor

Look, no literary agent wants to touch your dangling participle.

Whether you plan to parade on your manuscript on submission, or you’re about to self-publish with Lulu, you should consider getting professional help. I’m talking book doctor, word-slush-slinger-extraordinaire. At worst, you’ll get a one-on-one education and skills you get to keep for life. At best, you’ll end up with a polished, publishable manuscript that you can be proud to show the world.

While friends, family members and critique partners are invaluable, there are things they won’t tell you—can’t tell you—that a paid professional will.

Here’s a brief rundown on the different types of editing:

Developmental Editing

This is big picture, high-level stuff. Rather than grammar or even tone, a developmental editor is looking at character development, plot problems and for when the thread of tension goes slack. It’s something to consider early on, perhaps even before the whole manuscript is complete.

Line Editing

A line editor will look at your dialogue and prose to ensure that the tone is consistent. They’ll help you craft your book into a polished piece you can be proud of.

Copy Editing

A final step in editing—this is where you can make sure your grammar, usage, spelling and punctuation are correct.

Great, where do I get one?

Beware gypsies, tramps and thieves, That Which Seems Too Good To Be True and anyone cautioned against on Editors and Predators. Ask fellow writers, try writers’ forums or your critique group. Shop around, ask for quotes and even request samples. Be aware that not every editor accepts every customer. Don’t be afraid to ask for references. Snoop.

Will an editor be mean to me?

A good editor is going to be honest. And if that means pointing out where you’re running afoul, it’s good for you in the long run. However a good editor is also going to point out what you’re doing right and that’s just as valuable. Plus, it’s going to feel great. Listen to what they say. You don’t have to take every suggestion—it’s your book and if you don’t agree, by no means should you take their advice. But consider it. That’s all you need to do: Consider it.

Is it expensive?

It can be. But there are also great editors that are affordable. Think of it as an investment, if not in a saleable book, an investment in your career as a writer. It’s tuition to your very own private writing school.

Will it pay off?

Hiring an editor demonstrates pride in your work and a willingness to invest in your novel’s success. It won’t guarantee you’ll land an agent, get you a big fat book deal or sell a million books on Kindle. But your book will be more polished and professional and who knows? You might learn a lot along the way.

Look, you really weren’t planning on going out there with all those split infinitives, were you?

Unparalled Feedback, Great Price

As writers, we all know how important feedback is. Maybe you belong to a critique group or have a few trusted beta readers. This sort of criticism is crucial to the process. But there’s one thing they probably can’t tell you—no matter how valuable their advice.

They can’t tell you about The Agent.

stack of papers

By Niklas Bildhauer (who also is User gerolsteiner91. (originally posted to Flickr as folder) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

The Agent sits at an enormous polished desk, wearing Jimmy Choos, with trendy maroon glasses perched at the end of her nose. “Trash! Trash! Trash. Ahhh…. Garbage. Tripe.” To one side there’s a wounded writer, half-buried under a mountain of charred submissions, his glassy eyes staring at the ceiling.

The Agent holds your fate.

She picks up a letter. Her eyes make tiny movements across the page and Then—something in the shape of the writer’s words connects with her. She adjusts her glasses and lets out a sigh. Leaning back in her chair, she reads the submission in its entirety, nodding to herself. “Becky,” she shouts, “Request a partial on this.”

Some lucky writer is going to send a partial, and then a full. And then, the phone call–and The Dream realized.

But what, why, how? You need to know… What happens in that hallowed place? Your friends all love your book–but how, how does one get to that fabled Land Of Representation?

If only you had insight to that mystical office: what sets the agent’s teeth on edge, what are they are sick of, what sort of magic can you weave that will leave them nodding, sighing, shouting, yes, Yes, YES–send me more pages!

Well, you can get this information.

Blatant commercial—but I came across one such person. I sent ten pages and $25. The advice and feedback I got back in return was thoughtful, comprehensive and invaluable.

Kate Brauning works the trenches for a NY Literary Agency. She screens the submissions and she can tell you if your concept is original or if she’s seen it a hundred times this week. She can point out that teeny incidental thing you did that will make an agent run for the hills. And she can tell you your greatest strengths, so you know what to capitalize on.

For $25 (hurry, cause her price may go up), she offers a 10-page critique and for $35 she’ll do 50 pages. She’s honest, fair, and offers an amazing perspective into all those things you wondered as your query letter vanished into cyberspace. She also offers editing services and I will say, I think she’s got the finest hand around.

Maybe you’ve only been tossing around an idea in your head. Your friends love it. But you want to know if the market is overrun with rabid-vampire-zombie-hedgehog stories before you invest a whole summer writing it. Kate’s your gal.

She also works with writers in reviewing and refining their submission packages. She’ll go up to three rounds of edits on your query and synopsis. Then, she throws in a round of edits of the first 7,500 words of your manuscript. All this, for a mere $40. You know I won’t pass that up.

It’s a golden opportunity.

The Unbearable Madness of Writing

I recently read an article about a study that substantiates the popular notion that  creativity is linked to mental illness. It says (in part) that they found that writers and their family members had a higher than average incidence of depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and autism.


Writers are crazy.

Sometimes bat-shit crazy.

If you are not a writer, imagine for a moment the level of writhing, itching obsession that would compel you to squirrel away in your room for months—no years—no decades–scribbling on and on about made-up worlds and imaginary people. Who does that? Why?

Seriously. Why?

It ain’t for the fame, money or glory. The odds are too long on that buggy race—no matter how delusional those creative types might be.

No, it’s a sick compulsion; a distinct flavor of crazy that is a subtle blend of delicious, delirious dementia with a dash of mania and a flake of lunacy.

So, if you are a writer, well—good luck.

And if you just happen to know one, give them a hug or something. They probably need it.

Determination and Craft

Okay, I promise: this is not going to turn into one of those blogs where I talk about my kids and dogs incessantly. Because ultimately, this is supposed to be about writing. Well ultimately, everything is about writing for me these days, so bear with me.

This is not the post I planned to write. But, plans are that—only plans, and I spent last evening at the ER. Noble Hamster came down with a sudden, blinding stomach pain. I’ve never seen the kid so miserable and he’s the one who didn’t flinch, even as a doctor put five stitches to his forehead.

So last night I called the pediatrician and immediately after, we left—sans shoes and coats, dinner half-eaten. What we thought was appendicitis turns out to be the sort of sick we’ll most likely all get to experience for ourselves in a few days.

We got back late last night, too late to get the prescription but with enough time to go through our nightly drama about putting on PJs, brushing teeth and going to bed.

By dawn, we’d gone through two entire sets of clean bed sheets and I found myself raiding the basement at 2:00 a.m. for a sleeping bag for the kid, since we were out of blankets. The dog then subsequently pooped on the puke-soaked mattress and followed that up by chewing an enormous hole in it. And while I can say that I’ve had a bad night, I guess I can be comforted by the fact that it wasn’t as bad as the mattress’s.

At this point, with only minutes until I need to get ready for work, I need to find clean jeans so Twister doesn’t have the trauma of going to school pants-less, I have a mammoth mountain range of laundry, I see undone dishes littering the sink and remembrances of last night’s dinner all over the kitchen.

And this point, showering is practically a luxury and yet here I sit, writing. Blogging no less, and I wonder, will I ever finish HitList? I started it March 2nd of last year. Now, with the end so tantalizingly close, it seems there will always be Boy Scouts or peewee tennis, or kids’ birthday parties, or school plays, or dog obedience classes and the part that’s mine–the writing–just drops off the list. Not out of  laziness– but out of necessity.

But I swear. And by writing this, while I should be doing ten million other things, I do hereby solemnly swear and promise, I will write. I will finish my book. And while I may never be published and nary a soul may ever read it, I swear:

I will write.

There are no words

I’ve been…occupied lately, with cool stone chapels, somber dark suits, gentle nurses and goodbyes.

The sweetest moment of the past few days was sitting on the edge of my grandma’s hospice bed, having a glass of wine with her. And when something like that is the highlight — I think it’s fair to say it’s a bad week.

Among the sorrows piled on since Friday, a friend of mine lost his twenty-one year old son in a sudden, tragic accident.

I imagine myself a writer, and so I thought there must be something apt I could say to him; something wise, or true or meaningful. Better still, anything that might soothe my friend’s agony.

But I failed. I can’t.

There are no words for the incomprehensible wrongness in burying your own child. No words to express the all-encompassing tragedy in the loss of a young life. No words for the bottomless anguish the man must feel when every sweet memory of his son comes entangled in the knowledge that he’s gone.

There are no words.

How to become a published fiction author

Many people would have you think that becoming a successful published author is difficult. In truth, it’s easy and if you follow these simple steps, you may soon find yourself at the top of the bestseller list.

Monkey typing

1. Read a lot. Reading is critical. You should read both books in your chosen genre as well as books that can help you improve your craft. Try to read at least three books a day.

2. Write, revise, repeat. Writing is a skill and just like any other skill, you must practice. Set goals for yourself. Start with 10,000 words a day on your manuscript and work up from there. Depending on how fast you can type, this should take less than three hours. Then, do writing exercises for an additional couple of hours to hone your craft.

3. Promote yourself. Start a blog. Create a website. You should also be reading books on internet marketing and effective use of social media. Devise a comprehensive self-marketing strategy and plan on spending at least six hours a day promoting yourself.

4. Take time to learn and hone your abilities. Take classes and join a critique group or two. Four classes or sessions a day should be sufficient. Try to bring homemade treats to each meeting to share with your fellow participants.

5. Make writing a priority. If you have work, kids, social life or hobbies, you must remember what’s important and put your writing first. Of course, sometimes it’s impossible to avoid distractions, but use them to advance your goals. For example, if your house is on fire, your first priority should be to get out. However, while you’re waiting for the firefighters, use the opportunity to write down your observations. Fictionalizing real events is a wonderful way to add dimension to your work.

6. Research. Well-written fiction demands research – so whether your characters are skydiving or street luging, take the time to become intimately acquainted with these things. Better yet, experience them yourself. Spend three or four days a week doing this.

7. Get recognized for your work. Find, research and enter writing contests. You should try to enter only those contests you will win. Plan to enter and win five to seven a week.

8. Meticulously research literary agents, their preferences and submission guidelines. Set aside several hours a day to target appropriate agents for your work and draft query letters.

9. Be well balanced. You can’t let your life revolve around writing. The best writers fill their lives with other interests. Learn Russian, perfect origami, master calligraphy. Get some physical activity while you’re at it, you can’t be a lump sitting at a desk all the time. Consider doing marathons or endurance swimming.

10. Get plenty of rest. You can’t write if you’re all tired and stressed out, now can you?

As you do these things, keep in mind that if you aren’t willing to invest this degree of effort, you must not want it enough. Best of luck in your publishing endeavors!

Bald Eagle Appreciation Day

I’m in the weeds today, going totally off-topic. This has nothing to do with writing or publishing … I should have warned you I reserve the right to be random.

bald eagle- public domain imageI’m sure it’s marked on your calendar, but it’s Bald Eagle Appreciation Day. I don’t know what you’re planning to do to celebrate. Me, I think I’ll go for a ride and reflect on what it all means.

My second grade teacher was the one who told me. And who would question it – I’d read The Lorax, I wasn’t ignorant of the concept. So when my teacher told me bald eagles were going extinct, I believed.

“Your children will never see a bald eagle,” she said, waggling her head in pity for us.

Of course not. I’d never even seen a bald eagle, and undoubtedly never would. It was 1972 and bald eagles were going extinct.

Flash forward to the present, where on any given winter morning I can spot one in the fuzzy half-dark, making slow circles from dizzy heights as I cross the bridge into Czech town. Just about any weekend I can hop in the car, Noble Hamster riding shotgun and Twister in her booster seat, and we can ride the winding river road and spot a half-dozen. One on the ice, picking at a stolen carp, another perched at the tip of towering cottonwood and still another swooping close enough to count the feathers on the upturned tips of her widespread wings.

Each time we do this, I subject the kids to the story. They know it by heart but I’m helpless to stop. Just as I can’t crest the hill on Edgewood Road without hearing my grandmother’s voice say, “That’s where our old farm was” – my children are doomed to think of my second grade teacher whenever they see a bald eagle.

We almost lost them – the eagles that is – and that is where the story lies. The American symbol of supreme power and authority was nearly wiped out by poaching and pesticides.  At the lowest point there were only 417 nesting pairs left in the United States.

In 1962, Rachel Carson published Silent Spring, warning of the dangers of the chemical DDT. It didn’t happen overnight – in fact Carson was in her grave by the time that DDT was banned in 1972. But she started something, a wheel that continued to turn and by 2007, bald eagles were removed from the endangered species list. Wonder of wonders, I heard there are nesting pairs in Manhattan.

For me, this is where the bald eagle evolves into more meaningful symbol of America. Supreme power, especially at the height of the Cold War meant one thing. But supreme power in the context of this tale is a more glorious and far-reaching thing.

It started when people believed, took action and worked together.  A chain of people changed what seemed an unalterable course. That is the very best of us as a nation. Sure, we’re bold and mighty and brave. But what matters more than anything is that we, together, can make a difference. We can change the world; overcome even the most insurmountable obstacles and leave the world a better place for our children.

What better symbol can there be?