Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Sometimes Critique can be the Best Thing Ever

A few months back I wrote about an online auction I'd won for Do the Write Thing for Nashville to have a 50 page critique done for The Prodigal's Foole.

The lovely and talented Amy Boggs from the Donald Maass Literary Agency offered up this critique to help the poor souls impacted by the terrible flooding in Nashville earlier this year.

Amy and I had been corresponding a bit via Twitter previously...DMLA reps a few of the writers I love. As a writer seeking publication, research into the type of agencies you want to work with and who fits with your writing style and genre is a critical component of the business-end of writing.

Anyway....yesterday I received the detailed crit back from Amy...and I wanted to share a few of her comments as these sort of details are definitely things you should look at for yourselves when editing your WIP:

While Sy is engaging and likeable, I don’t feel we’re quite given enough reason to follow him. What makes him unique? Why is this his story and not Aaron’s or Billy’s or Eden’s or Janice’s or even Peter’s? Sure he’s funny, but for a character to really pull us in, there has to be an evident strength there as well. The key, I think, is to highlight what drives your character. Take Harry Dresden, for instance. He is driven both the bad and good events of his childhood.

A very fair point (and the comparison to Harry Dresden made me titter. And men really shouldn't titter). As TPF is structured at the moment, the reason's for what drives Symon is revealed in the second act...which jumps back and forth between the present and ten years prior. I can (and absolutely should) at least hint at the motivations earlier...hints will make the reader want to know more about Sy, while providing even more impact when the 'reveal' happens in Act 2.

More towards your writing, the big issue for me was that sometimes you don’t seem to trust your reader that much. A lot of this comes through in repetition. For example, “I nodded my head by way of acknowledgement.” The reader knows that nodding means acknowledgement because of the context. There were also quite a few instances where things were spelled out to the reader when they didn’t need to be, such as diving into a long paragraph about how they all have magical powers...

Even my sister mentioned this when she reviewed my novel. I ignored her. Guess I should send her flowers or something, huh? This is a 'mechanics of writing' issue for me that I have to be aware of....correcting this in TPF will take a little time. Correcting this for my writing over all will take strength of will. Pay attention to your writing and listen to your sister (who has a PhD and is a walking MLA Handbook)!

I know some of this 'sounds' negative. It's not. They're all good points....and all helpful to make TPF the best it can be. After all, do I want to eventually publish an ok story, or a tight yarn people will enjoy?

I'll share a third passage from Amy's overall comments with you. Not just because it's hopeful and flattering (so it's a nice ego boost ;-) ), but because now I want to work twice as hard to get it right:

You have a solid foundation here, and you clearly know how to juggle both big world-building and detailed sentence structure, and every story element in between. You story shows promise, and your writing even more so. I hope this can just perhaps be a nudge in the right direction.

Nudge indeed. I spent all night doing rework of TPF...:-)

Keep writing folks. Don't stop. Get people you know to review your work. Join writer's groups to get peer critiques. Make contacts in the writing world.

Becoming a published writer is a lot harder than putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. But the key--for me at least--is to continue to get feedback. All it does is make you a better writer in the end.

Make it happen!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Vacation is Over...A Quick Monday Update

For a vacation week, I seemed to have been more productive than ever.

My ghost story inspired by my stay in a haunted B&B in Maine is developing into a nice little novella while I continue to tidy up a few shorts.

The podcast is coming along nicely...spent an hour on the phone yesterday with Eric Grigg and Chuck Stanley of the Eagles FanCast discussing podcasting...possibilities.
The boys of Eagles FanCast

And the website is coming along nicely as well.

I also received a fully (and professionally) edited version of The Prodigal's Foole back. I'll be trolling through that as well.

There is a busy week ahead...and I hope to set a firm date shortly for the launch of both the Podcast and the website. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Inspiration Shows Up When You Least Expect It

I went on a holiday with my partner, Tina this past week. It's the first time we've been away--just the two of us--in three years.

It was a wonderful rejuvenating trip.

We traveled a couple hours north of Boston to the Maine an old B&B in Ogunquit right on the beach near the Marginal Way (if you know the's one of the most beautiful beaches in New England). It was a stunning break.

Anyway...we checked into the B&B....and I went to unlock the door to our room and the brass key snapped. As you can imagine, I was a little embarrassed as I went back down two flights of stairs to the front desk.

The hostess, Louise, just laughed and quickly had a replacement key and the lock to our room fixed. She patted me on the shoulder (as I was obviously put-out at breaking the key) and said:

"Don't worry about it. The ghost is just upset."

Well, I love a good ghost story--but as a born and raised New Yorker, I'm a bit skeptical when it comes to the 'real thing.'

"What ghost?" I asked.

Our lovely hostess grabbed a book from the shelf (Haunted Inns of New England) and pointed out a story about the very B&B I was standing in.

"Interesting," I said trying not to be the cynic I am, "But why is the ghost upset?"

"The B&B has been sold to make condos."

She was really sweet and I spent a few more minutes chatting with Louise, then went back upstairs to open up our room and unpack, focusing not on the ghost or the broken key, but on five glorious days alone with my baby.

That evening, we had a beautiful dinner, a lovely walk on the beach and spent some time stargazing. About 2 AM, T and I were woken by the banging of the handicap elevator in the back of the building. It went on for thirty minutes or so, then stopped.

The next morning we came downstairs for breakfast.

"Did you guys hear the elevator last night?" asked Louise as one might ask about the weather.

"Yes," I said. "What was that all about?"

"The ghost," she said simply

"Oh, c'mon!" I said.

That's when the elevator repairman came around the corner. "I'll be damned if I can find anything wrong, Louise."

Our hostess just smiled at me.

I admit it. I got caught up in the moment. I asked to hear more for a budding Ghost Story short that had been percolating since...well...since the repair guy couldn't find anything wrong with the elevator.

She agreed to speak to me later that afternoon.

Tina and I had breakfast, then decided the walk the Marginal Way to Perkin's Cove...a two mile or so stroll along the ocean. During our walk we came across a run down mansion overlooking the water. The second part of my embryonic tale began to take form.

Both Tina and I wanted to get a closer look at this old run down estate and snuck onto the property for a look-see. The house was well in need of repair, with rotting wooden beams, plants growing inside and all manner of decaying smells about the place.

In other words, I'd found my setting for my ghost story.

The discussion with Louise later gave me all sorts of information from the condo conversion this fall to the various 'intriguing' happenings at the B&B.

To add to Louise's stories, a few other inexplicable things happened during out stay. The main computer for the B&B, for example, died while the reservation system was being updated to clear out the entry's post the start of the condo conversion this fall. The door to an adjoining room's porch locked by itself while the residents were outside enjoying the evening. The sound of running footsteps were heard one evening on the back staircase...but the staircase was locked. The outdoor lights of the Inn randomly switched on an off, yet had no problems when the electrician arrived. The oven randomly turned on an off one morning during breakfast....

I could go on.

So I now have a Work In Progress. A Ghost Story set in a sleepy town in Maine.

I think I'll keep the lights on tonight.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Is Anybody Out There? - My Review

4.5 Out Of 5 Stars

Is Anybody Out There? is a wonderfully crafted anthology edited by Marty Halpern and Nick Gevers focused on the observations of Enrico Fermi regarding the existence of extraterrestrial life.

Fermi’s Paradox for those of you who don’t know it states simply: The apparent size and age of the universe suggest that many technologically advanced extraterrestrial civilizations ought to exist. However, this hypothesis seems inconsistent with the lack of observational evidence to support it (Wikipedia).

Before I launch into my review, I should say that I attended the premiere panel launch for this book at ReaderCon21 earlier this summer. I had the extreme pleasure in speaking with Marty Halpern, Paul Di Filippo, Yves Maynard (and yes my son is now taking French so he can read some of your other work for himself!), and my old friend James Morrow.

Yves Meynard, Marty Halpern (standing) and James Morrow - ReaderCON21

I found Marty to be gracious with his time, and his discussion on what he and co-editor Nick Gevers went through to bring this marvelous collection to our book stores was both daunting and rewarding. Paul Di Filippo was exactly as I expected him to be--passionate, funny and a brilliant speaker. Yves Maynard, with his quiet intensity was an absolute joy to speak to and Jim--with his flair for the dramatic, was the perfect choice not only for the panel, but also as the final author in the anthology.

The group of shorts in this tome reflect both the flavor and intrigue of the simple question: Are we alone in the universe?

A few author highlights, as I could go on for pages…and I’d rather you spend the time reading the anthology rather than a long-winded review!

Paul McAuley kicks off his take on the Paradox with Enrico Fermi himself engaged in a discussion of this very question. An overview of the paradox and theories surrounding the question of ETs sets the stage beautifully for the reader.

The writer-meeting-his-own-alien-creation story by Yves Meynard is a wonderful take on man’s desire to know answers, and the less-than-satisfying results knowing brings.

The wonderfully fun Report from the Field by Mike Resnick and Lezli Robyn is a kooky alien Dan Rather type story with an extra terrestrial’s take on Earth and all that is humankind.

Paul Di Filippo’s Galaxy of Mirrors is a tale spun with good humor and in grandiose style about the fate of two hapless lovers and their encounter with the World Thinker.

Graffiti in the Library of Babel by David Langford is a great first contact story about aliens who try to get our earthly attention by communicating to us via our own historical records.

The paranormal mystery of Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s The Dark Man tale is a neat take on a “what if” story. Think along the lines of Scully actually finding PROOF that Mulder’s conspiracy theories were spot on.

The final tale in this collection, James Morrow’s The Vampires of Paradox is an investigative piece on paradoxes themselves. Twisted logic and mind-bending questions are asked and the answers that arise are told in a way that Jim pulls off brilliantly.

Overall, this is a marvelous collection of stories, some I’ve touched on, others just as intriguing and entertaining, and leaves the reader with one final paradox: How many different ways are there to ask Is Anybody Out There?

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

I'm Baaaaaack!

All-righty then!

After 1200 miles of driving, a whirlwind weekend with my children (see my son rock climbing off to the right), and assorted other family obligations, it's time to be writing again!

Time away from the keyboard has done wonders. I hadn't realized how stressed I'd made myself over the last few weeks. I was piling on work without planning and forethought.

The end result was the fact that there were no end results.

So this morning, It's back to work. I have ONE short I'm happy with that I can comfortably have ready for submission in the next few days...and it's nothing I've posted about before.

Exciting stuff!

The Prodigal's Foole is in process of a full professional edit and a 50 page critique (by an agent). My website is in Eric's very capable hands and I have a script (of sorts) for my first podcast.

A little 5MinuteFiction at 1:30 PM today ought to get me back into the groove.

A couple days away was nice, but now I'm back pounding away at the keyboard. Feels pretty damn good.

Oh, and a side note to the guys at Sirius XM:

I loved the Eighties station....helped me get through 1200 miles of driving this weekend. The Pat Benatar and AC/DC sets were wonderful. But PLEASE throw away anything labeled 'Debbie Gibson' or 'Tiffany' -- also any post-Commodores Lionel Richie.

And tell Nina Blackwood to lay off the Camel's.


Thursday, August 5, 2010

Brief Hold on the Writing...and I'm OK with that.

My gear arrived for setting up my Podcast....have a new pro mic, mixer etc. Been playing with the full version of 'Garageband' on my Mac for recording and have a few people who've agreed to be interviewed for the show already.

The excitement is building!

In the meantime I have a target for submitting a couple of shorts next week and the launch date for the website is quickly approaching.

But it all goes on hold this weekend. Because I get to be a dad.

I'm picking up my kids on Friday for a long weekend. I can wait to see them and Tina and I have (as usual) a packed visit planned.

The blog will go dark until next will twitter, IM and e-mail. And I'm ok with that.

'Cause I get to play with my kids.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Podcasting Subject Matter and 5MinuteFiction

I've been chatting with a few people about the upcoming podcast.

I mean, what should I talk about? What do people want to hear? How do I not only GET an audience, but retain them? All good questions, especially since what I want to talk about has to do with writing and what the Hell do I know about that?

But see...that's the point.

I want to do a show for the 'newbie,' the 'wannabe' and the 'curious.' Like me.

So there will be interviews. I've spoken to half a dozen people out that about being on the show and was surprised when they all agreed to participate. Enthusiastically.

I want to talk about the struggles of writing (everything from the love/hate relationship writers have with their manuscript as they go through their 40th revision--to finding an agent).

I'd like to highlight authors, share opinions and showcase the work of so many folks out there.

And above all I want to have fun.

Those of you who know me realize I'm a bit mad...barking, in fact. So I'd expect a little of that as well.

The goal is to have something together in the next month or so. So keep coming back for updates!

In the meantime, today I'll be the judge for the 5MinuteFiction starting at 1:30 PM Eastern TODAY (03 August 2010). So click on the link and come join the fun.

Heh. I'm a writing competition judge! Oh the POWER!!

Monday, August 2, 2010

Progress Report

Made a lot of headway last week on multiple fronts.

  • I've sent one short off to my crit partner to review. The second is coming along very nicely.
  • I locked The Prodigal's Foole as being in a place where I'm very pleased. I've sent it onto a professional editor for a look-see and should hear back on that in about two weeks.
  • I submitted TPF to another agency last week.
  • The website has made great progress...I'm very pleased with the work done so far and I hope to have an official launch later this month (Place a very manly 'Squeeeee!' here).
  • Posted my review for Emmett Spain's 'Old Haunts' on Amazon, GoodReads and this blog (HERE). Very much worth a read.
  • Still working on my review for Is Anybody Out There?
There are a couple of exciting developments to share as well. I can officially announce I've been asked to be a judge at this weeks 5MinuteFiction competition - Tuesday 03 August at 1:30 PM Eastern Time. Make sure you join in!

The second development is I'm working on a new semi-regular podcast. Details will be forthcoming, but I'm very excited at this opportunity! I'll be releasing more info as the plans coalesce. But here's a little preview:

If you have any ideas/thoughts/comments of what you'd like to see in a writer's podcast, feel free to leave them in the comments below.

Busy busy!!