Sunday, December 20, 2009

Ever wondered?

Ok, I stole this like I do a lot of my advise. But in this case it's a question and one you might want to consider:

Have You Ever Wonder Why They Call It Submission?

Sunday, December 13, 2009

I want to welcome Universality of Cheese back to the blogosphere. I admire a man who stands up for what he believes in, especially in the face of the attacks he has received.

My US readers won't be aware of the brouhaha going on in Scotland over political blogging. If you want to get a different view of the world, you might pop over there.


Back to the subject of writing, I feel like I should say something intelligent about Heinlein's rules. The next one is especially hard for a lot of us.

Rule Four: You Must Put Your Story on the Market

Ugh. That means researching (if you haven't already) to find a good market, send it wending on its way and wait... possibly for a rejection. *sigh*

It's not the part that I've ever enjoyed, but as far as I'm concerned an essential part of writing is having readers. So you do it, enjoy it or not.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Rules -- Yet Again

I keep swearing I'll never mention politics (especially Scottish politics) again and then fall off the wagon. So visualize me climbing back on the wagon and getting back to the topic of writing.

I was going on a bit about Heinlein's Rules and his first two were pretty straightforward. You write and you finish what you're writing. But his rule three tends to make a lot of people choke. The one where he said to only revise to editorial order.

I suspect that he meant that pretty literally considering what I've heard about Heinlein. I once was told that when another well-known author complained about having to edit, Heinlein remarked, "Why didn't you do it right the first time?" I'm not sure if the story is true--but it seems right for Mr. Heinlein.

However, most of us don't get it right the first time. At the least, we have to do some clean-up, and I assume that he wasn't referring to that. I try to get it down in a fairly coherent manner the first time though and I think that may have been what he was getting at. We don't improve our writing, I suspect, without working hard at that first draft to get it as close to a final as we can. I've known writers who can send out a first draft and I'm aiming at that, not that I'm there.

That, I suspect, is the only way to really improve. Then look for the faults, get it as clean as you can and go on from there because picking over the same manuscript for years isn't going to improve your writing or get something new written.

So that's my theory on that.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Blogging and Censorship

It has come to my attention that several bloggers in Scotland have recently come under attack for openly criticizing politicians and journalists. They have even had their jobs threatened for their remarks. This is absolutely blatant censorship.

Mind you, none of their remarks have been proven untrue, although I suppose it might be hard to dispute being called a c*nt as a certain journalist was (more on that).

Consider that, while rude, this is something one might hear in any bar or political meeting in this country OR the UK, I have to say it causes me a lot of concern. I don't often post about politics, but freedom of speech is IMPORTANT.

We tend to take it especially for granted on the internet and in blogs. This may be a mistake. If you have or express an opinion that isn't mainstream, it isn't that hard to find out who a blogger is. Most of us make no secret of who we are, really.

It's a good idea to remember that what we say can be watched. We can be judged for it. And if you are saying something controversial--which we have EVERY right to do--you'd better be careful.

I am concerned about political bloggers such as Wardog and The Universality of Cheese being deliberately silenced by major newspapers so as to silence their political opinions. That both bloggers support independence for Scotland was NO accident. I rarely use an obscenity but I will repeat what was said by the Universality of Cheese.

This is a major assault on both freedom of speech and on blogging as a political tool.

As for independence for Scotland, that isn't really my business but I have great respect for the SNP and their leader the honorable Alex Salmond. As for their nationalist aspirations, I'll repeat H.D.S. Greenway from the Boston Globe on 11th March 2009:

"The SNP’s nationalism is based on citizenship, rather than on ethnicity, religion, or language..." National independence is an honorable goal shared by nations all over the world.

I only wish my Scottish friends the best and for their nation--whatever they want to make of it. And free of intimidation and trickery.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

What Was That Heinlein Said?

I posted a few days ago (ok... ok... it was a couple of weeks) about how to succeed in writing and mentioned that you actually have to write.

Afterwards, I realized that, of course, I was merely echoing the great Robert Heinlein in his Heinlein's Rules from his classic essay On the Writing of Speculative Fiction, published in Writing Science Fiction & Fantasy. The master was being less than honest, however, in that much of what he says applies to all fiction, most especially his "rules". The essay is available in Google Books and I recommend reading it. But I'll quote one particularly salient paragraph. He said about his rules:

...they are amazingly hard to follow--which is why there are so few professional writers and so many aspirants, and which is why I am not afraid to give away the racket! But if you follow them, it matters not how you write, you will find some editor, somewhere, sometime, so unwary or so desperate for copy as to buy the worst old dog you or I, or anyone else, can throw at him.

Times have changed a bit with most slush piles about ten feet deep what with word processors and email submissions, but most of that is still true, in that you will sell if you follow his rules and that very few people will.

So I said the first rule: Write.

What's the second? FINISH. A hundred half-written stories aren't going to either improve your writing or get published. But that one is a hard one. Right this second I'm procrastinating on a novel. I'm 35,000 words in and the thing has turned into pure drudgery. But I have to finish it. I WILL finish it. (*gives self kick in the rear*)

Will you finish that piece you've started? Because if you don't... Well, I think Mr. Heinlein said it.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Rules of Writing

Some say that there are no rules for writing. Someone recently told me that. It happened that Mark Twain disagreed and he gave an interesting list. On my "if you're going to steal, steal from someone great" theory, I'm stealing the good Mr. Clement's rules, which are:

Twain's Rules of Writing

(from Mark Twain's essay The Literary Offenses of James Fenimore Cooper)

1. A tale shall accomplish something and arrive somewhere.

2. The episodes of a tale shall be necessary parts of the tale, and shall help develop it.

3. The personages in a tale shall be alive, except in the case of corpses, and that always the reader shall be able to tell the corpses from the others.

4. The personages in a tale, both dead and alive, shall exhibit a sufficient excuse for being there.

5. When the personages of a tale deal in conversation, the talk shall sound like human talk, and be talk such as human beings would be likely to talk in the given circumstances, and have a discoverable meaning, also a discoverable purpose, and a show of relevancy, and remain in the neighborhood of the subject in hand, and be interesting to the reader, and help out the tale, and stop when the people cannot think of anything more to say.

6. When the author describes the character of a personage in his tale, the conduct and conversation of that personage shall justify said description.

7. When a personage talks like an illustrated, gilt-edged, tree-calf, hand-tooled, seven-dollar Friendship's Offering in the beginning of a paragraph, he shall not talk like a Negro minstrel at the end of it.

8. Crass stupidities shall not be played upon the reader by either the author or the people in the tale.

9. The personages of a tale shall confine themselves to possibilities and let miracles alone; or, if they venture a miracle, the author must so plausably set it forth as to make it look possible and reasonable.

10. The author shall make the reader feel a deep interest in the personages of his tale and their fate; and that he shall make the reader love the good people in the tale and hate the bad ones.

11. The characters in tale be so clearly defined that the reader can tell beforehand what each will do in a given emergency.

An author should

12. _Say_ what he is proposing to say, not merely come near it.
13. Use the right word, not its second cousin.
14. Eschew surplusage.
15. Not omit necessary details.
16. Avoid slovenliness of form.
17. Use good grammar.
18. Employ a simple, straightforward style.

(I've always been particularly fond of Rule #3)

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The real secret to writing--BIC

I discovered that I'm leaving the subject of historical novels. I love them. I write them. I have a strong opinion opinion about them and that is this:

The should be about history and not fantasy. If you want to write a fantasy, I think that's what you should do. There are plenty of blank spots in history. Most of history is either a blank spot or debatable. Make up stuff for that, but don't change the real history. That's my opinion. If you disagree, that's your right but please don't ask me to read your novel.

Ok. So about writing. I've been thinking about what we have to do be writers. The hardest part for many of us is the writing part. But if you're going to be a writer you have to write. And for writing, doing research, making up outlines, talking about writing, and thinking about writing doesn't count. Neither does posting on blogs. *rolls eyes*

Only writing counts.

I'll tell you what works for me to get those words down. Maybe it will work for you too. I think it should work for everyone. I write on my computer. The first thing I do is disconnect the internet. (Aha! Back foul procrastination!)

Then I write for two hours. But sometimes nothing comes and I stare at the screen. So I sit there for two hours. Sometimes to keep from going crazy and to try to prod things along, I type my name... over and over. And eventually, knowing I'm not going to give up, my mind decides that it might as well give me some words to put on the paper.

Is it painful? Well, not most of the time. Usually I write 2000 words during that time.

Sometimes, when the words aren't flowing, yes. It is. But it gets novels written for me... And even an occasional short story which as far as I'm concerned is much harder.

Next time, I'll talk about some of the other daunting tasks we face as writers.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Historical accuracy in novels?

How much does it matter to you as a reader? How much as a writer?

I have to admit it matters immensely to me, but I'm never quite sure where to bend when writing my own historical works.

Examples of what annoyed me: a spinning wheel in 14th century England. They didn't have them. They used spindles to spin at that time. Spinning wheels came much later.

Men riding destriers as though they were every day horses makes me cringe. It would be about the equivalent of driving a tank down the road to work. In fact, even for warhorses constantly referring to them as destriers annoys me. Destriers were the heaviest of warhorses and not necessarily the most desirable. A rouncey or habelar was often used for their greater speed and agility and chargers were by far the most common warhorses.

Kilts in 14th century Scotland. NO!

I had someone do a first read on a novel I'm writing and he was baffled that I referred to a Scottish nobleman as a baron. But they're lairds, he protested. No. He was a baron. And I suppose I could refer to the Scottish earls as Mormaers but I suspect that would only confuse things further.

Oh, I won't even go into the introduction of feminism into medieval thought. I'm a feminist--a pretty avid one, and there were strong, capable women in the middle ages. They were not feminists, and few women got choices, such as who they would marry. Widows sometimes did, but the fact that when Edward I's daughter married a man of her own choice it caused the new husband to be thrown into a dungeon kind of shows how uncommon this was. Pretending women usually had these choices annoys me, but maybe not some readers. I can't bring myself to do it.

I think we can all agree that you should be accurate on the big details such as who was king when or who controlled which country. But what about those smaller details? They probably take some painstaking research and may conflict with people's expectation, such as the kilt thing that so annoys me. *grin*

I suppose where I falter is what are the important factors and what are not. It jerks me out of a story to read anything that is an anachronism, but I am SO likely to spot them. Would it bother most readers to read about that spinning wheel Catherine Coulter put in her 14th century novel? It sure did me. She got the politics wrong, too. Her medieval novels still did very well.

Even referring to rooms can be confusing. Should I call what was in fact referred to as a wardrobe as an office? It is the closest comparison. I cringe a bit, but the meaning of the word wardrobe has changed.

It's a fine line to try to not confuse people, not jerk them out of the story when introducing historical concepts that they may not be acquainted with, and yet maintain some degree of historical accuracy.

Anyone else struggle with this? Thoughts? Suggestions?

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

No more politics. But I'm not sure that writing about writing isn't more depressing.

I am currently of the opinion that being a writer pretty much sucks.

It isn't so much the rejections from publishers and agents although I certainly won't pretend I don't get my share of those. Don't we all? Boring subject.

What is the hardest for me and it seems to me for most writers is the way we beat ourselves up. I do. I'm not good enough. I'll never be good enough. There are days--weeks when I'm convinced that the best thing I could do is torch everything I've ever written.

Ugh! Self-pity is not a pretty sight. But it seems to be par for the course. Heck, even with my very small successes I've had more success and praise than a huge number of the writers out there in the slush pile. I really have no reason for having a pity party, except...

There are those days when I am convinced that what I've done is good--darn good. Better than 99% of what's out there so why don't people see it?

There are those days when (see above) I'm convinced that everything I've ever written is dreck.

There are days when I'm convinced that editors and agents must be crazed to choose to work with writers.

Sorry for whinging a bit. I feel better now and I will finish this new novel by the end of the month. Keep plugging people.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Lockerbie Bombing Again

For some reason the serious problems with the Lockerbie case is little known in this country. I've never been sure why.

In Scotland, with a large part of one of their towns destroyed and many of their own citizens dead, there has been a lot of concern about bringing out the truth and not just a laundered, politically-convenient version as was tragically presented at the trial.

For anyone who wants to understand more about the indignation of the Scottish people over the handling of Lockerbie, I suggest reading this:

And in a day or two, I'll be back to taking about writing--Promise.

Edit; This didn't work as a link but does when copied and pasted. Sorry. I'm not sure why.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Finding a Literary Agent

Ugh! I'm very behind on my blogging. Put it down to writing a new novel, having the flu and being lazy.

There has been a lot of talk among the writers I hang out with on the subject of finding an agent, so I want to talk about that some. It has probably always been difficult but with a tight publishing market and everyone wanting to be a writer it's gotten about ten steps beyond difficult.

And it is darn near essential for those of us who are novelists. (Did I mention my novel Warrior's Duty and my co-authored novel Talon of the Raptor Clan both being on Amazon *grin*)

But back on topic, how do you find an agent?

First, finish your novel. Seriously. Don't even think about it until the novel is complete and edited.

Then research agents and research writing queries.

Some good sources for learning about queries:

Guide to Literary Agents

Pub Rants, Agent Kristin Nelson's Blog

Agent Nathan Bransford's Blog

How to Write a Great Query Letter by agent Noah Lukeman

I strongly recommend all four of those. If you read and apply them and spend time polishing that query, you'll have a query that has a good chance of at least garnering some looks at your work and that's a start.

Now to researching agents. I don't think that you need to know where agents went to high school or every single book they ever sold, but you do need to know that they're legitimate, that they're accepting queries and that they're interested in the genre of novel you've written. I'll point you in the direction for the best starting point for that information in my very strong opinion and it has links to every important source. It is great for making a list of possible agents and puts links for further research at your fingertips:

Query Tracker

I realize I mentioned this recently, but I can't recommend it highly enough, and, no, they don't pay me.

More on a literary agent search next time, but I hope this helps.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Paperback winners

This will be a short one tonight.

I wanted to announce that I have two winners for the copies of Warrior's Duty.

They will go to John and Victoria and I'll email them both tomorrow to get their physical addresses. Thanks so much to everyone who took part!

I've talked to a number of people recently who are looking for agents and I want to mention what I consider the best source for help and information for an agent search. I highly recommend

It has the most complete database of American Agents that I've seen, and I've looked at a most of them. Pat who runs it is meticulous about removing questionable agents. Each agent page also has links to sources where you can check further, such as the agent's webpage, Publisher's Marketplace, AgentQuery and Predators & Editors. You can also use it to track your queries and query results and look at accumulated stats on queries and submissions from other authors.

Nope, they don't pay me. I just think it's a great resource. So if you're looking for an agent I suggest you head over to .

I'll have more thoughts on the writing life soon so keep writing.


Sunday, August 23, 2009

Lockerbie Bomber

I normally stay out of politics, but I'm upset enough by things I'm seeing said that this one time I'm giving my strong opinion. Just this once.

Many people seem to be unaware that Lockerbie is in Scotland and that large numbers of Scots were killed in the Lockerbie bombing. A large part of a Scottish town (Lockerbie) was destroyed in that incident.

However, there seems to be nothing surprising in a Americas being unaware of the concept that another country has their own laws and should follow them. Certainly, the concept of Compassion is unknown in American "justice."

Well, it is part of the legal system of Scotland. They followed their laws, not ours--as they should have. If there were someone to boycott to get this point across, I assure you I would.

I just returned from Scotland. Next year, I will go to Scotland again. And I have sent congratulations to my Scottish friends.

And apologies for the bullying attitude of many Americans, most especially the ridiculous and offensive letter from the head of the FBI indicating that Scots should have followed American law instead of Scottish law and that somehow Scottish law did not matter. SHAME on you, Mr. Mueller. Shame! Shame for telling Scotland they shouldn't have followed their own laws. Shame for trying to bully another country.

And this from a country that waterboards and threatens prisoners with power drills. Oh, we have a LOT to brag about. We execute the mentally ill (Texas is part of this country, right?) and want other countries to follow our example. I think we'd be better off following Scotland's example rather than screaming at them.

America has long acted like a bully in international affairs and this just shows, in my opinion, that a change in administration hasn't changed that--to my sorrow and continued shame.

I assure you that not all Americans are so stupid they are unaware there were Scottish victims of this bombing, that there is doubt the man was even guilty, and that Scotland had the right to make the decision.

Good job standing up to bullies, Mr. MacAskill and Mr. Salmond!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Warrior's Duty -- Paperback Giveaway

I have TWO paperback copies of Warrior's Duty that I will give away on August 28.

So just post a comment including your email address (which I'll remove so it doesn't appear). On August 28, I'll pick two random posters to receive the free copies. I'll need to email you to request your mailing address.

Here is the link if you'd like to read the first chapter.

Sales are looking pretty satisfactory so far although not earthshaking. It has been a great experience.

Thanks for reading!


Edit to post:

As you may have noticed, I moderate the comments. I simply save the ones with email addresses without letting them appear. So don't worry that I didn't get your comment if you don't see it. I just don't want spammers picking up your email addy but I obviously have to have them to notify whoever I give the novels to. I don't really see a better way of doing it.

Just so you'll know. :-)

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Book Review--The Revelations of Minister Skyddz

My First Book Review and this happens to be from my own publisher but it was neither solicited nor did they promise me extra royalties. :-)

The Revelations of Minister Skyddz by E. J. Vance from Swimming Kangaroo Books

This is a satiric version of The Bible with twists on the original that will amuse some and infuriate others. If you are a conservative Christian, I suggest staying away. If you have a sense of humor and an open mind on the subject of religion, this may be just the book for you. The creator, also known as Lordy Dude, after doing his creation bit begins meeting Archangels, who become God's motorcycle club with much partying and pulling of pranks. I loved the fiendish parody of Adam and Eve, and the re-telling of the story of Satan will give you a jolt (maybe even make you think after you finish chuckling).

The writing isn't perfect. The first part was a bit slow. But it's worth your time to keep going. A little way in, it gets good.

AND I'll be starting another book give away (this time of paperbacks) later this week!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

I didn't realize, although no doubt I should have, that I would need to have you give me your email addresses in order to send the e-book.

If everyone who posted will post their email address, I'll send them to you. Don't worry about their appearing. Since I moderate comments I'll delete them so they don't appear and your email address will go no further.

But I do want to get the promised novel out as soon as I can.
Thanks, everyone who posted.

And I want you to know that I am giving a PDF copy to everyone who posted and not choosing only one!

Naturally, I have hopes that some of you may post on Amazon or your blogs if you enjoy it. Or just recommend it to a friend. But no strings attacked except to enjoy it. That's an absolute requirement!

I'm not sure if your posting provides me with your email. I'll have to check that. As soon as possible I'll get your copy out to you.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Warrior's Duty Give-Away

Warrior's Duty Is now out and on Amazon. Pardon the self-advertising but needless to say, I want everyone to see!

Warrior's Duty

However, I have an ecopy (in PDF format) that I want to give away.

So just post a comment. On July 30, I'll flip a coin and pick some random poster to receive the free e-copy.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

I was finally sent the final cover art for my Warrior's Duty which will be out from Swimming Kangaroo Books this week. Unfortunately, I have no clue how to put it on the blog so I won't show it until I can put up a link to the novel itself. I'm told that sometimes coming from a small press that it can take a week or so for a novel to show on Amazon. Needless to say, I'm excited and anxious!

I think the cover art is pretty nice. I had begun to think I'd never see it.

There's a sample chapter posted on my website, by the way, for anyone who would like to take a look.

Monday, June 29, 2009

I wanted to congratulate the winners over at the Editor Unleased/Smashword Flash Fiction contest -- except I seem to be one of them. *blushes modestly* So offering congrations sounds funny, but to all the others who placed for the anthology and for that matter everyone who entered, Kudos!

Seriously there were some good stories entered and I'm complimented to be among the top 40 finishers. I have no complaint about that because, frankly, a number of them were better than my little offering. I can't say I'm short stories and flash are my strongest area.

Anyway, here is a link to the list of winners and to Maria Schneider's blog, as well which is worth reading anyway. It also has a link to the forum where the stories are posted.

Do take a look.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Back with a book recommendation

First, I need to apologize for a lengthy lack of posts. I've been finishing a novel (now completed and hopefully about 90% edited) and I've also had a lot of chaos in my personal life. However, things are now at least somewhat back to normal--whatever normal may be for me. I sometimes suspect my normal is nowhere near everyone else's normal.

And while hopping back into blogging I want to recommend a book on writing that I came across and am very impressed with.

I don't often recommend books on writing but I recently read one by Ray Rhamey of the Flogging the Quill blog that very much impressed me.

The title is Flogging the Quill: Crafting a Novel that Sells and it is available on Amazon.

Ray divided his book into seven sections--Storytelling, Description, Dialogue, Technique, Words, Workouts, and Computer Tips--and each is full of invaluable information for the fiction writer. He does a great job of putting together insights and advice that are both effective and entertaining. It has many concrete examples so you're never in doubt about exactly what Ray is getting at.

Unlike many books on writing, I felt that this had almost as much in it for the experienced writer as for the beginner. I really do recommend it.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Artist for Warrior's Duty Cover Art

More news from the novel front -- the one being published, not the one I'm working on.

The publisher is actually allowing me (Swimming Kangroo Books are super-nice people to work with) to pick the artist and forwarded me links to four artist's galleries. Very exciting! This is at least close to the last step.

I picked out an artist named Jeff Ward who does some very nice work. I'm assuming the publisher will agree since they asked.

Woohoo! I will finally have cover art to post!

I'm going to post a longer portion of the first chapter as a sample so you can get a better idea of what Warrior's Duty is about.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Getting Out of the Slush Pile - Part 2

I apologize for a rather extended absence. I haven't felt well for the past month of flu season and my attention – what there was of it – went to my novel. All over a very nasty flu bug and attendant bout of bronchitis now though.

I'm back with more discussion of Mike Resnick's article on Jim Baen's Universe on how one may (or may not) get out of the slush pile. Here is a link to the entire article which I strongly recommend reading.

Mr. Resnick says:

Second, check your spelling and punctuation. Again, that seems awfully basic, and in truth no good story ever failed to sell because of a couple of typos . . . but a sloppy manuscript implies that the author had no respect for his work and his craft, and if he didn’t then why should the reader (and in this case, the slush reader)?

Now, I have to say that's harsh. Maybe I react that way because it's someplace that I fall down, but when I do fall down there it's definitely not because I don't care. However, I have no doubt if Mr. Resnick says that's how slush readers react, then he's right. He has the experience to know.

But what does that leave the rest of us who in our fallibility may have trouble with proofreading. And here I'm talking about myself. I have a very hard time finding all the nit-pick errors in my manuscripts and believe me, I look.

I have improved by doing this and like most of us I do my stories using MS Word: I select the whole thing, change the font to something I don't usually use (Arial for me) and to a larger size, print it out, sit myself down and read it out loud with pen in hand.

It was actually an editor over at Baen's Universe (thanks, Paula) who suggested changing the fonts. I was surprised that that does help me look at it with fresh eyes. I can't say it makes my proofreading perfect, but it's better. And I never want to hear from an editor (as I must admit I did once) "If you don't care, why should I?"

If you have problems with proofreading, you might try that method. If you have a better method, please let all of us know because I'm more than open to new methods.

Monday, March 16, 2009


On a more personal topic:

I got an email from my publisher, Swimming Kangaroo Books, last night letting me know that the Advance Reader Copies of Warrior's Duty are off to Publisher's Weekly and Library Journal. They also sent one to my local daily, The Oregonian.

I'm both thrilled and nervous. There's no guarantee of getting reviews in any of those, of course, but SK has done well with getting reviews for their releases which is one of the reasons when I decided to look at small presses that I was impressed by them.

So now I'm holding my breath -- or not since it would be a long breath-holding. And you can imagine the: "Please let them review my novel -- but only if they like it" that's going through my mind.

Back to the previous subject with a new post tomorrow.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Getting Out of the Slush Pile

I to discuss an article in Baen's Universe by writer/editor Mike Resnick about Slush Piles. He, after all, probably knows as much as there is to know about them. He got out of them; he used to read them; and he now has minions who read them on his behalf. So when he talks about the slush pile, a wise writer listens--although perhaps reluctantly.

Respecting his copyright, I'm not going to quote what he says beyond a reference sentence or two, but I do want to discuss some of the tips he gives.

After spending some time emphasizing the difficulty, if not improbability, of getting out of the slush pile faced with competition for a limited number of slots from very big names, he addresses the question that faces most of us.

How do we do it?

And he gives a list of tips. The first one is pretty simple. Mr. Resnick says:

"The first is: learn how to format a story, whether on paper or in phosphors. You wouldn’t believe how many stories are left at the starting gate just over that."

Now you wouldn't believe the number of arguments I've seen on forums and blogs on the subject of formatting. You'd think we'd get emotional over plot or characterization, but, no. It's formatting that makes the fur fly. I've seen writers insist that there is no standard on how to format and that you should do it however you please. Really. I have. And the war of words between the Times New Roman people and the Courier people is never-ending. One day blood will flow on this subject.

Huh. Well. So I'm going to take Mr. Resnick's word that formatting matters.

But is there a standard? SFWA seems to think so. It's pretty simple really. Courier (yeah, I'm a courier girl) unless the editor says otherwise. 12 pt. Double spaced. Indented paragraphs. 1 inch margins. If it's printed, one side of the page. Header with your name, title and page number in the upper right. But Vonda McIntyre (nominated for a Nebula this year and congrats to her) has a PDF on the SFWA website illustrating how to do it.

The only complication really is what to do with those publications that say to paste it into an email. In that case, because I have never found an absolute standard for that, I always hope the publication has given a hint what they want. Because I don't care what the "standard" is, if the publisher wants something different, I give it to them.

That's pretty much it. If you do that, it gets you past the first obstacle. In a couple of days, I'll discuss Mr. Resnick's next point.

PS. By the way, Baen's Universe where Mike Resnick and Eric Flint are Senior Editors is one heck of a good publication. If you like science fiction/fantasy, you might want to take a look.

Friday, March 6, 2009


Outlining a novel. Put any two novelists together, bring up that subject and you're likely to start an argument.

Personally, I'm firmly in the non-outlining camp. I tried outlining which led to a horrible, stinking novel that got firmly trunked. It just didn't work for me which is what I judge techniques by. It can work for everyone else in the world, but if it doesn't work for me, I don't do it.

It's no secret, since he said so in his marvelous On Writing, that Stephen King doesn't outline. There are plenty of others in our side of the divide so don't feel like you have to if you don't. On the other hand, if you've never tired outlining, you might want to try it. I think we can't know what works for us or what doesn't until we try.

I'll be happy to admit there are plenty of good writers who do. David Farland in his excellent email blog "Kick in the Pants" talks frequently about outlining and how to do it. (I stick my fingers in my ears and say, "Neener, neener. . . I can't hear you.")

The other day Dave shared a wonderful article that I want to link because it's a technique that is "outline-ish" without quite being outlining that I'm going to try on some short stories. Maybe this will work for me when outlining doesn't.

They refer to it as "sketching" kind of the way an artist might do a preliminary sketch. It's definitely an article worth reading.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Writing believable sword fights

One of the things that annoys me is when writers assume that the bigger the sword the more effective it is. This simply isn't true and a writer concerned about realistically portraying sword fights should realize this. Swords are for cutting (and less often for thrusting) not for crushing so weight is meaningless. A heavy claymore or bastard sword is more likely to merely tire the user and isn't more necessarily more effective. In sword fighting, agility and maneuverability count.

Smaller, lighter swords are generally more maneuverable. However, a very light weapon (epee type) are so light that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to parry a heavy weapon with one. It would give way under the pressure.

Smart sword fighters don't jump into the air. It may sound cool, but it would get the fighter killed. The fighter can't change directions mid-air and doesn't have any way to maintain their balance. A sword fighter's feet belong on the ground in a sword fight.

All parts of the sword are a weapon, including the hilt; so are insults or a face full of sand. Especially with a larger opponent, legs are great targets. A fighter can win simply by letting an opponent bleed out after a leg slash. Eye-witness accounts indicate this was a frequently used technique.

A sword fighter should be closely aware of their opponent. An opponent's hands and shoulders often tense momentarily when they are about to strike, for instance. They may glance the direction their going to move. A fighter needs to also be aware of their surroundings. Sending an opponent backwards over an obstacle is always a good thing.

Last, but not least, a fight to the death takes tremendous energy. A good fighter doesn't waste it on fancy maneuvers that may look cool but don't damage their opponent.

On writing about sword fights a few well-known sword fighting terms are good to use, I think, but I'd suggest not going over-board. There are extensive terms for the Italian and German schools of fighting and somewhat fewer for English, but they would merely confuse the reader. However, block, dodge, parry, and riposte are terms that are familiar and give a picture of the action to the reader.

A fight to the death is serious business. While the Wesley vs. Inigo Montoya sword fight in the Princess Bride was hilarious, it was a great example of how to write one that surely no one believes or takes seriously. I could mention others that were meant to be taken seriously but don't want to offend the fans of some good writers whose sword fights make me cringe.

You don't have to be an expert to write good sword fights. I do think it helps, though, if you get an accurate reproduction and try it out at least, even if you don't have the time or desire to be in a club. If you take some of this into consideration, your sword fight scenes will have a lot more believability.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Swords and More

Ok, now I am a fantasy writer. In my case, this means I write story that take place in worlds I make up and they mostly use "medieval" style weapons. I put medieval in quotes because the fact is swords, shields and bows have been used in many times other than medieval, but I suppose I can live with that description.

Anyway, I want to discuss weapons a little bit. First let me mention, that until well into the late renaissance people did NOT use epee type weapons -- you know, those thin little things that are used in fencing. This is not how sword fighting was done for most of history. It evolved from the smallsword of the late 17th century into the dueling sword of the 18th and 19th centuries. They were good for the purpose because, quite frankly, it was much harder to actually kill each other. You could draw blood without, quite often anyway, actually killing someone. And these are NOT good weapons against most other swords.

BUT, I hear someone saying, your female characters HAVE to use one of these because a longsword (I prefer the term hand-and-a-half but it's long to type) is too heavy for a woman to pick up, much less use.




The typical medival longsword, my dear ones, weighed less than three pounds on average. So you mean to tell me that women can sling around thirty pound kids, heft 50 pound bags of wheat or flour, but CAN'T pick up a three pound sword. And, of course, can't learn to use one or like Mr. George RR Martin's Brienne --and I'm usually a BIG fan of Mr. Martin -- has to be a huge monstrosity in order to pick up and use a weapon. Oh, please. Mr. Martin -- give me a break on the sexism. And dragging in epee type weapons for the little helpless women to use quite ruined at least one of Brandon Sanderson's novels for me.

No. Women didn't and couldn't use weapons because they were forbidden to learn how and were never taught not because they weren't capable of it. A claymore such as William Wallace is said to have used generally weighed around 8 or 9 pounds and are two-handed swords. So a woman can't use something that weighs nine-pounds using both arms? Of couse she can.

Now smashing them together is absolutely tiring. Don't get me wrong. But it is certainly something that a woman can learn and do. To win against a larger, stronger person with longer reach, a woman with a sword uses a somewhat different technique, just like a man does when he comes up against another man who is larger.

Evidently someone (another man, mayhaps) has told many of our male writers that the largest man always wins, regardless of skill. Not so. I promise.

If you want to write about using these weapons, I do suggest trying to find a sword fighting club. They do exist, and, again, I emphasize that I am not talking about fencing which is a modern hobby which has little to do with sword fighting. (Nothing wrong with it, but they're not the same)

In a few days, I'll post a little basics on sword fighting techniques you might want to take into consideration if you want to write believable fight scenes.

Monday, February 16, 2009

What writing advice has helped most?

I ran into a blog with comments from a lot of famous writers on this subject the other day. I'd point you toward it IF I could remember where I saw it!

But I thought it was an interesting topic and thought I'd throw in my own experience--not that I'm a famous writer, but I can hope. I've received some great advice from some very experienced authors, but truthfully the best advice I ever got was published and is available to every writer out there. It was Heinlein's famous "Five Rules," originally published in his essay that appeared in "Of Worlds Beyond: The Science of Science Fiction Writing."

They are pretty simple:

Rule One: You Must Write

Pretty simple -- but, amazingly, many people who claim to be authors don't write.

Rule Two: Finish What Your Start

Here it really gets tough. Maybe you think the first pages are weak or the characterization isn't that good. It's easy to give up, but if you don't finish then you don't grow. Half finished stories don't do a thing for you.

Rule Three: You Must Refrain From Rewriting, Except to Editorial Order

Now this one gives people fits. Almost everyone modifies it since none of my first drafts come out ready for an editor to read and I doubt that yours do either. But the fact is, beyond a limited point, editing and re-writing is a lost cause.

Let me ask you this: Do you really know what will improve your work? Do your first readers or your critique group really know? Sure. Fix plot holes and obvious errors. But once you have that piece finished, the plot holes filled in, and reading reasonably smoothly -- STOP! Don't work on it for years. (Sadly, I know writers who do.) You're as likely to make it worse as you are to make it better, unless you deliberately wrote it poorly, and I don't believe that.

Instead of working and sweating over that piece, try to make your NEXT one better than the last.

Rule Four: You Must Put Your Story on the Market

Obvious, but most of us fall down on the job here. I admit it. I have a couple of stories I need to get out. Sometimes rejections or even the fear that you will get a reject makes you stop. So reward yourself -- have a piece of candy or whatever works, but get that work in front of editors who can buy it.

Rule Five: You Must Keep it on the Market until it has Sold

Tough! Tough! Five rejections. Ten rejections. You start thinking that the piece must be crap and you should trunk it. But keep putting it out there. I don't think Heinlein's remark that there is a publisher somewhere who is "so desperate that he'll buy the worst old dog you or I or anyone put out" is true any more. But I do know authors who have sold stories on the 70th submission. So just keep trying.

So that's the best advice I ever received and to be honest just about the only writing advice (besides Stephen King's in On Writing and a couple of other books I mention on my website) that I ever bother to follow.

Monday, February 9, 2009

The Writer as Cash Cow


I get really tired of all of the people who treat aspiring writers like cash cows. Whether it's people who write books and articles about how self-publishing is taking over the industry (Ha!), to the self-publishing companies that pretend they'll actually help market or that it's so easy (Ha!!), and even a few -- successful doesn't mean not greedy and this is why I say AAR membership is no guarantee of a good agent -- agents who have recently been "caught" sending writers they are rejecting to self-publishers, pretending this will lead to their being considered (see some recent blogs from Victoria Strauss), by far most people who self-publish are taken advantage of.

The number of self-published books, especially novels, that ever sell more than a handful of copies is miniscule. Pretending otherwise is dishonest. It is possible to do. However, it is also TIME CONSUMING, DIFFICULT AND EXPENSIVE!

Doing it successfully involves all kinds of things such as gathering cover quotes and inserted them, copyrighting the book, getting your ISBN number, and of course purchased a unique bar-code so that you can sell it. It probably includes, because you don't get decent sales of no-name writer on Amazon alone, sending out at least dozens, maybe hundreds, of review copies, sending press releases and media kits to newspapers, NPR, TV stations, talking to indies and chains to TRY to get carried (good luck!), setting up book signings, setting up blog interviews, etc., etc. etc.

Most writers don't want to do all that and wouldn't do well at it if they tried. How many writers really want to do what Christopher Paolini did and show up at high schools in costume? But do you see the people who make a profit from this stuff telling them that???!!! No, instead they're acting like it's as easy as getting your pocket picked. And in a way, I suppose it is since that's what happens.

It makes me really angry.

End of Rant

Monday, February 2, 2009

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt is in serious trouble and I'm thoroughly disgusted. There is no excuse for a company to have been dragged into financial trouble the way HMH is.

No, it isn't that books aren't selling. Book sales on Amazon are up substantially and while they were down at Barnes & Nobles for the last quarter, earlier in the year they were rising. HMH is giving as an excuse a cutback in textbook purchases, but that is to come. It hasn't happened yet.

What actually did it was GREED. Pure and simple. Mr. O'Callaghan is known for what some refer to admiringly as a "freewheeling" person. Greedy is a much better word for it and with no background that made him a good owner for a company that was doing well until people with no knowledge of publishing got hold of it.

The fact is they borrowed FAR more than this company could possibly repay. They knew it. It's known as killing the goose, having run up a debt load somewhere around TEN TIMES their normal gross income. TEN TIMES!

A "fire sale" may well end up this fine old company's fate. We can just HOPE the next owner actually knows SOMETHING about publishing.

What the hell were bankers thinking making this kind of loans? Well, we know they weren't.

But don't get the mistaken idea that this has ANYTHING to do with publishing as an industry or how publishing will do in the future. This is someone (or multiple someones) running a company into the ground through piss-poor management. It is not the mark of changes in the publishing industry.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

How Does a Writer Get Started?

A friend asked me this the other day. He's always been an avid fantasy reader but now he's starting on a novel. He loves it but he's not quite sure that he's doing it "right."

Should he start on page one and write to the end? Should he worry about picking up ideas from fantasies he's read in the past? Should he edit the first chapter until he's sure he has it perfect? And these are all things that new writers think about.

The thing is that when it comes to writing there aren't any hard and fast rules. What works is what you should do, but, of course, an inexperienced writer isn't sure what works. I've always started at the front and kept going until the end, but not everyone does that. If you're getting started, give that a try. But don't be afraid to write scenes out of order if that isn't working for you. Just be aware that if you write a scene in the last chapter, by the time you get there you'll almost certainly have to re-write it. That's ok too as long as it gets you there.

I can't tell you how strongly I advise against editing and re-writing until you've finished your first draft. I have known so many aspiring writers who got stuck writing the same chapter over and over for years. Think about the fact that by the time you've finished, something you decided on later may still mean going back to change what you spent so much time polishing. When you think of something to change, make a note. MS Word has a great function called Comment that allows you to put notes into a Word document. If you write on paper, just put a sticky note on it. But then keep going.

And don't worry if you find some elements of something you've read in your work. In your work, you'll put your own spin on it, make it your own. There are no new ideas, so that will happen. But there are new ways of using the old ideas.

One last thing, read some good books about writing -- ones written by good writers, agents or editors. Most of us start out writing because we love to read, and that's a good thing. But reading really doesn't make someone a good writer. After all, you're busy reading not watching the technique the author used, so there's a lot to learn.

I'll recommend a couple that I consider essential:

"Character & Viewpoint" by Orson Scott Card
"Beginnings, Middles & Ends" by Nancy Kress
"Self-Editing for the Fiction Writer" by Browne & King
"On Writing" by Stephen King

Tuesday, January 27, 2009


I'm a writer -- of fantasy and science fiction. Not a big name mind you. And what I'm going to share is the experience of a "not-big-name" in the world of publishing.

I've had a few short stories purchased by and published in a small online publication. I have a coauthored novel coming out in March from ePress-online and another solo novel coming out in April from Swimming Kangaroo Books. Both are "tradition" (that is royalty paying) micro presses.

Those of you who write and try to sell your writing know that it's a rough old road to travel. I'll share my experiences and what little expertise I have. And I'll be happy to hear from you and discuss publishing with you.

Thanks for dropping by.