Thursday, May 31, 2012

The mystery of getting ideas

At the genesis of what I call my writing career, which started some time when I was in college, a flood of story ideas hit me.  Were all of them good?  Perish the thought.  But I wrote them down, to keep track of what my ideas were like.

I either carry around a little notebook or use the notepad featue on my cell phone to jot down ideas.  Story ideas are far and few between now, simply because I've recognized what good ideas look like.  If one sparks my interest, I'll mull it over and over around in my mind until I've got the formation of a decent story.  At this point, I'll devote a notebook page and scratch out a few ideas.  One may call this outlining.  I do not.  For me, just getting it down on paper helps to release my conscious mind from holding onto it, making room for new ideas.

Before college, the thought of writing short stories never entered my mind.  I wrote novels, even in high school.  Then, when I read a biography of Stephen King and knew he started out with short stories, I allowed myself to find ideas that fit within the short story structure . . . and the floodgates opened widely, just like the tidal wave of blood in The Shining.

During this time, I worked for my uncle Rod, who's a contractor.  Many times, the jobs he had required me to travel at least 20-30 minutes out into the country.  I loved these times, and almost every single day, I'd come up with a new story idea.  95% of them were crap, when I look back on them now (oh, who am I kidding, it's probably 98-99%) but I was getting myself used to the idea of generating story ideas.

Late last year, I had two short story ideas that just wouldn't go away, no matter how much I was working on something else.  Both were along the fringes of science fiction, which is odd because most of my ideas were horror, fantasy, or thrillers.  One of these days, I'll post them for you.  I like them, and they were fun to write.

To me, I love the entire writing process, from idea generation to writing first drafts to editing.  But I think my absolute favorite is getting the ideas and churning them over and over as if I were churning milk into creamy butter.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Writing Prompt Wednesday - Episode #25

You go into a convenience store to get a newspaper.  You're so engrossed by the front page that when you go back outside, you climb into someone else's vehicle.

Happy writing!

P.S. Write!

Earlier this month, Dan Miller had an interesting blog post titled: My spouse rejects my ideas - what do I do?

Dan requested audience participation on this one, along with awarding a prize for the top 2 responses.  I dutifully responded and not only received feedback from a guy named Trevor Lund (AKA RevTrev), I also got a response from Dan Miller himself--very exciting!  I didn't win one of his top prizes, but what came out of it profounded me and prompted me to write this blog.

My wife, as well as I, love our lists.  She knows if she puts a list of household chores together, I'll stick to it.  Most of the time she even sends me to the store, list in hand, because she knows I'll "just get what's on the list and that's it."

Even from the beginning of our marriage (going on almost 15 years now!), she always puts at the end of her lists:

P. S. Write!

My wife has never wavered in her support of my writing dreams.  Oddly enough, she's read very little of what I write, simply because she's not interested in thrillers or fantasy epics or horror tales--although she does love the Harry Potter stories, and I'll bet money that if she started reading mine, she'd be hooked.

In my initial response to Dan's blog, which was centered on a gentleman who asked Dan what he should do if his wife rejects all of his ideas, I said that I couldn't help but think of Proverbs 31: "Whoever can find a virtuous wife, for her worth is far above rubies."  Sure, I've had some hair-brained ideas over the years and I've listened to my wife's advice and not done them.  But when it comes to my writing, she's always been supportive.


This is a valid question, since I've only had an ebook published so far, and that was less than 2 months ago.  If you were to ask her, she knows that publishing is a long process.  But also, here's the key: she sees me working on it.  She sees me writing, either on the computer or on the hard copy pages.  Whenever she calls me on my lunch or breaks at work, she asks me what I'm doing.

"I'm writing, honey," I tell her.

And she believes me.  Because it's true.

I also don't spend nights away from home, at the bars or at my buddies' homes.  I'm at home, when the kids are in bed, and I'm writing.  Now, I'm really writing stories.  I'm not writing mindless BS, which brings to mind this frightening scene from Stephen King's movie The Shining, directed by Stanley Kubrick:

If you have a spouse who doesn't support your dreams, ask them why.  Don't get defensive.  Listen.  It's possible you're spending too much time working "on your dream" and your family is suffering.  I admit, there is a fair amount of time that needs to be devoted to writing, but don't forget about the beneficiaries of your dreams when they become a reality.

There's more I want to write on this topic, it seems.  I'll have to wait for future posts to continue this discussion.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Why I write in the present tense

As you've seen in my two posted chapters of Beholder's Eye as well as many of my writing examples, I write in present tense.

Not many books are written in the present tense, and here's the weird part: I've always written in the present tense, it seems, with rare exception.  In the seventh grade, I started work on a ninja trilogy--ninjas and the martial arts were all the rage when I was growing up, thanks to actors like Jean-Claude Van Damme and Steven Seagal.  When I wrote it, I might've started writing in past tense but soon the present tense emerged from somewhere without my knowing.

When I started writing my deer hunting horror story back at Bemidji State University, I was using a Brother word processor.  The word processor had a printwheel on it (with a standard font, probably Times Roman) for when I printed out pages, and if I wanted to change the font, I needed a different printwheel.  Here was my dilemma: because I needed to tell the reader on my flashbacks that they were indeed flashbacks (not sure why I needed to explain it, but I'm sure it was my naivete in the writing realm), the only way I could do it without changing fonts was to put it in a different tense (i.e. the flashbacks were in past tense and the rest in present tense).

The main reason why I love present tense so much is because it gives a feeling that I'm taking someone on a journey.  Past tense, in my opinion, is the equivilent to someone saying, "Let's sit here by the fire while I tell you a story."  There's nothing wrong with it.  I just love the feeling of grabbing someone by the shirt collar and saying, "Let's go on a journey, you and I."

Besides, I recently read John Grisham's Calico Joe, where he switches from past to present tense.  I don't see much present tense written, and Grisham's was especially refreshing and powerful to witness firsthand.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Future of book signings in this new e-publishing world

While in Rochester last week, running to get my wife something to eat while she waited to get her blood taken--her next appointment was looming close on the horizon at that point, and we didn't want to risk missing it on account of filling our bellies--a thought occurred to me (as sometimes thoughts do when I'm not in a convenient place to write it down): with the advent of e-publishing, how will author book signings be affected?

I thought this as I was driving up to the Apache Mall, with the Barnes & Noble store right along the front, next to the food court.  A Minnesota author, Amanda Hocking (who ironically lives not far from Rochester), had a book signing in the B&N store a few months prior.  I was in Rochester the week prior and was unable to attend the signing.  Anyway, when I thought of this and mixed it in with my thoughts on the ever-changing world of e-publishing, how would book signings be handled?

An author can't really sign an ebook, can he/she?

This, of course, when I'm also thinking of my own ebook 99 Ways To Have A Memorable Wedding On A Shoestring Budget.

Not sure if I have any answers at this point.  I might have to inquire with Seth Godin for some always-insightful wisdom.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Happenings in the Outhouse 25-May-2012 / A productive week

This week has been a productive one, despite my having taken a quick two-day trip to Rochester for my wife's appointments for her AML.

I finished editing chapter 24 early on in the week, bringing my percentage done to 59%.

As I have already been re-hashing chapter 25, I've refined it even more and should be close to getting it completed.

Chapters 26-27 are two very short chapters: 26 is a total of 2 pages and 27 is three.  Way too short, for my likes, and I'm working on beefing it up.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Why Gardner's quote is important to me

Yesterday, I posted rather lengthly quote from John Gardner's On Becoming a Novelist.

Why is that quote important to me?

My wife and I have been married for almost 15 years, and probably have known each other for 17 or more years.  And in all that time, she's heard about my writing and has fully supported it.  But wouldn't you think that after so many years and with me still not publishing any of my novels, that her support would wane.

Not a chance.  She's never ever failed to accept that writing is my calling and what I'm meant to do.  We always dream about what our lives will be like once my books start becoming published.  And she knows that it's a long process.  But as long as I keep plugging away and she knows I'm down in my office typing away, the dream and her loving support has never wavered.

That being said, I'm posting a video here which was taken by my sister-in-law Bobbi put together, while my wife battled an incredible fight with AML down in Rochester, MN.  It's a tribute and a cause for hope.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Writing Prompt Wednesday - Episode #24

Take the dialogue from last week's writing prompt and write descriptive exposition around it.  You can even make it a part of a fantasy or science fiction world too, if you wish.

Happy writing.

A great quote from John Gardner

Hanging on my office walls is a photocopied page of John Gardner's On Becoming a Novelist.  On the page, I have highlighted a long passage that I read quite often when I reflect back on how long I've been writing these novels and am still without a literary agent or publisher.

It starts on page 46:

"No human activity I know of takes more time than writing: it's highly unusual for anyone to become a successful writer if he cannot put in several hours every day at his typewriter.  (Even for a successful professional, it can take a while to get into the mood, takes hours to get a few good pages of rough draft, and many many hours to revise them until they bear repeated readings.)  Of necessity the writer is unlike those of his friends who quit work at five; if he has a wife and children, the writer cannot pay as much attention to them as his neighbors do theirs, and if the writer is worthy of his profession, he feels some guilt over this.  Because his art is such a difficult one, the writer is not likely to advance in the world as visibly as do his neighbors; while his best friends from high school or college are becoming junior partners in prestigious law firms, or operating their own mortuaries, the writer may be still sweating out his first novel."

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Another quick lesson in showing vs. telling

If you remember yesterday's blog, I gave a quick example of showing vs. telling from the 25th chapter of Beholder's Eye.  Let's continue that today as well.

Let's start with the former paragraph one and two (partials of each, as I combine them into the second paragraph).

             . . . The room is lit by a dozen or more candles on either side of her, revealing the lack of decorum along the bare paneled walls.
     Even without the candles, the room feels confined.  The bed is in the center of the room, with a foot or so of clearance from each wall and possibly twice that at the foot.

Yuck, right?  Practically a blue-print of where the bed was in conjection with the rest of the room.  I have since re-written it to be the following:

     The room is lit by a dozen or more candles on either side of her, revealing the lack of decorum along the bare paneled walls.  Even so, the room feels confined.  Like she's stuck in a coffin.  If she could stretch her arms to the side, she'd almost be able to touch the walls.

A lot better.  Not perfect, and probably not the final draft at this point, but you get the idea.

Monday, May 21, 2012

A quick lesson in showing vs. telling

In chapter 25 of Beholder's Eye, I had the following opening paragraph:

     Paulette Sampson is tied to a bed, her mouth gagged.  The room is lit by a dozen or more candles, revealing the lack of decorum along the bare paneled walls.

Okay, there are several problems with this paragraph, the first of which is a lot of telling.  I tell you she is tied to a bed.  With what, you may ask.  So, I take the opening sentence and change it into this:

     Paulette Sampson tries to move, but the leather bindings on her wrists and ankles, secured to the head and foot of the small bed, hinders much movement.  The best she can do is twist, to give her backside a little breather.

Much better, right?

Friday, May 18, 2012

What's Up In The Outhouse 18-May-2012

After a two-month hiatus, which encapsulated the months of February and March, I took myself away from editing Beholder's Eye and worked on my first ebook.

It is called 99 Ways To Have A Memorable Wedding On A Shoestring Budget and it is sold at Amazon for the Kindle.  A link for the site is here.

On April 4th I became an official Kindle author.

Now, for the past month or so, I've been back at it again, getting my groove back for Beholder's Eye.

What's going on?

The book currently has 62 chapters, which includes an epilogue.  I am diligently working on chapters 24-25.  I'm finding a lot of places where I tell instead of show, and I'll share a few examples next week.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The New Era in Publishing

This is not a new concept, so don’t be alarmed. What I’m talking about is the new era in E-publishing.

At least once a year, I either read Stephen King’s On Writing or I listen to the audio. Right now I’m listening to the audio—read by the King himself—and although I’ve just started it, when he talks about his life and how he grew into becoming a writer, one thing is clear: I don’t think anyone nowadays could do exactly what he did. The publishing business has changed so much.

King spent much of his teenage years sending stories off to magazines and even writing for his brother’s make-shift publication known as Dave’s Rag. The former industry is almost dead, in the form of paper magazines, although it would be interesting to wonder what King would do today if he grew up in this new era.

King would, most definitely, have a blog. He would be extremely prolific and would post something every single day. He would also guest-blog very often and comment many times a day, getting his name out there more and more.

The bottom line is that, even though the way words are published nowadays has changed, he still wrote. A lot.

Can’t get any simpler than that.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Writing Prompt Wednesday - Episode #23

Listen to a conversation between two people.  Then, write a short snippet of their conversation word-for-word, using pure dialogue and no tags.

Note what people say and how they say it.  Without knowing them, describe them by using the dialogue as a cipher.

Happy writing.

Avoid distractions as much as possible

One of the easiest ways to get control of your time, and get more done, is to simply avoid distractions as much as possible.

How many of you . . .

Have an alert that goes off every time you get an e-mail or a Facebook update or a Twitter update or a text?

Answers the phone every single time someone calls?

Surfs the Internet for hours on end, just for the sake of surfing?

Watch hours of mindless TV?

I could go on.  Now, there are times when I've found myself surfing the net too . . . and get too deep into something before I realize that I just spent the last hour getting nothing done.  I'm just as guilty of these as anyone else.

However, I don't get Facebook or Twitter updates on my cell phone.  I refuse to let myself be sucked down into that hole.

What are your main distractions?

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Stephen King - the King of Business?

Stephen King has been known for 30+ years as the King of Horror.  But in a recent article in gives Mr. King a new title: the King of Business.

It's a worthy read for anyone aspiring to be a successful author.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Stephen King - more than just the Master of Horror

I recently found this YouTube clip where Stephen King was interviewed by author Tom Perrotta at the JFK Presidential Library.  It's an hour-long interview, but well worth it.

I have to say, I've been a fan of Stephen King since I was in grade school, and not only was this a fantastic interview, Stephen King is one classy dude.

There were no pompous comments or snide remarks.  In fact, several times Stephen King told Tom that he'd like to have Tom's fans and such.

Very classy.

And that's what makes King more than just the King of Horror.

P.S. I've read and listened to a lot of interviews Stephen has done, and I can't recall anyone with more insightful questions than what Tom came up with.  Well done.

Friday, May 11, 2012

The engine analogy

At first, you may think this is a continuation of my successful blog post titled "My Dream Car"

Okay, here you go - some cool pics just to get us started:

Oh, let's add another one too:

Yes, you could say I have an affinity for Lamborghinis.

The Engine Analogy goes like this:

"Ideas without Action is like an Engine without Fuel."

The engine is the idea.  Everyone gets ideas for something new all the time.  What do you do with it?


Why?  There's lots of reasons why: fear of failure, fear of success, fear just for the sake of fear, fear that people will make fun of you . . . and the list goes on.

Don't be afraid.  Let action take your idea out into the world.  Make a difference.

Then, if you make a big enough difference, you can drive one of these . . .

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Get in the business mindset for your writing

If you're ever going to be successful as a writer . . . you need to start thinking like a businessperson.

Get yourself into the mindset that your writing is a career, your business, and whatever you do is dependent on you.

Replace writing with, say, construction.  If you're going to be a successful contractor, you need to get your butt out on the streets and start hussling for some jobs.  Make yourself known.  Maintain an honest demeanor.

Do you think any other type of self-employed business is different than writing?  It isn't.  Whether you're swinging a hammer or tuning pianos or detailing automobiles or writing, it's all the same.

Get your mind into the business mindset.

Act like your writing is a business.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Writing Prompt Wednesday - Episode #22

You're sitting alone in a near-deserted fast food restaurant, when someone enters carrying a duffle bag.  He walks up to you and says, "Everything you'll need is in here."  He then leaves.

Write a continuation of this story in three far-different genres: comedy, thriller, and fantasy.

Happy writing!

A quick example of an elevator pitch

"What if a serial killer videotaped his own murders and then sent that video to the cops?"

That's the first line I give for my novel Beholder's Eye.  There's more to it, but essentially, when I first thought of this book, that's the what if question I came up with.

Now, this isn't the entire elevator pitch, but this gets me started.  Try yours out on a group of people.  If you are part of a writers' group, pitch them and see what they think.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Perfect your elevator pitch

This cannot be stressed enough: if you are unable to summarize or tell something about your book (or product or service) in less than thirty seconds, then you need to sit down and work on this.


A lot.

There will be many times when someone will ask you, "Hey, what's your book about?"  And if you can't answer them in about 20-30 seconds, you've lost an opportunity.

Spend a little time on this.  To summarize a 400-500 page novel into a handful sentences is difficult.  Trust me.  Been there, got the T-shirt.  Besides, ever read the jacket cover of a book?  Of course you have.  There are people who all they do is write them.

The best way I've seen--and I stress that this is just me--is to go completely away from the computer and either go for a walk or a drive.  I may just sit quietly somewhere, thinking about the overall story.  Then, write down everything you can.  It doesn't matter how much, because you're going to whittle it down later.

Because the more you write down, the more you have to choose from.

Then, once you've got it nailed down, practice and practice and practice.

Monday, May 7, 2012

What do you want to be when you grow up?

"What do you want to be when you grow up?"

Every kid is asked this.  From an early age, these answers can range from an astronaut to a famous singer to the President of the United States.  As we grow older, these . . . dreams, we'll call it, seem to be less dreamy and tend to be more . . . let's say practical, for lack of a better word.

Why is that?  What stops us at an early age from dreaming what our life could be like and settle for something mediocre?

For as far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a famous author.  There were times when I diverted to other careers, like rock star and boxer (the Rocky movies influenced this one) and even a biologist.  I have novel beginnings I wrote as far back as 2nd grade, and still have them in spiral notebooks.  Twice in my life, I delved into the rock star realm.  The first time I was in the 4th grade and both my cousin Derek (yes, the Old Wolf himself) sat in his garage writing rock songs.

Having grown up in the wilds of northwestern Minnesota, my exposure to rock music was fairly limited.  My parents were country music lovers and didn't care for the old "Jungle Music" I was listening to--although, it was nothing compared to the stuff I listened to when I was sixteen, my second and longest stint into the rock star dream realm (I was a lover of 80's hair bands, and still love to crank the old tunes to this day).

My exposure to rock music in the 4th grade was probably limited to the "King" AKA Elvis Presley.  One day, while sitting in our basement and writing a song--I didn't play any instrument at this point but wanted a "red guitar with lightning on it"--when my Mom asked me, "You know, if you're a rock star, you probably won't be spending any Christmases with us, because you'll be out on tour."

I remember looking at the TV and seeing something about Elvis Presley but I don't know what it was about.  I then thought this wasn't so bad, spending a few Christmases away from the family, so I said, "Okay, that's fine, I guess."

I went right back to writing.

A few minutes later, she came back in and said, "You know, Santa Claus probably won't be able to find you either."

That did it.  My rock star career, in the 4th grade, was officially over.  I closed the notebook.

Kind of funny, when I think about it nowadays.  I love music, and even bought my Fender Squire II Stratocaster, red in color, when I turned eighteen and paid cash for it at a little music shop in Thief River Falls.  I played for hours on it, but never displayed the talent to make myself the next Eddie Van Halen or Steve Vai.  Those guys have talent.

But what I did have was a love for writing.  I did write songs--probably close to thirty by the time I was a freshman in college--and even put music to many of them.

In the end, writing and my dream of being a famous author is what drives me.  I don't blame my Mom for what she did back when I was in the 4th grade.  I laugh about it nowadays.  But if I may indulge for a moment, let me speak to all parents out there: don't squash your kids' dreams, no matter how wild and crazy they are (unless it's to be a beach bum and sell drugs or something illegal and immoral).  Fuel their passions.  Encourage them.

Because what are you afraid of?

Is it that they'll be more successful than you?  That should be every parents' wish, for their children to have a better life.

What are you waiting for?  Tell them today.  Now.  Tell them to live their dream.

Friday, May 4, 2012

What if a literary agent says no simultaneous submissions?

A few days ago, I posted about simultaneous submissions for publications.

But what about literary agents?  There are a number of agents who also specify this.

This I wouldn't be too worried about, because unless you find yourself in the position of having two or more agents fighting over you, chances are they'll understand that you queried multiple agents with your query letter.

However . . . if you do find yourself in that position, make it clear to both of them that there are multiple offers on your work and you will give one agent a specified amount of time to look over and read your novel.  Then, if one turns it down, go to the other one.

Keep in mind, the simultaneous submissions only come into play when an agent wants to read the entire novel.  If you have two or more agents reading the first twenty or fifty pages, that's okay.  You may want to mention to them that other agents are also considering, so this could heighten the need to represent you.  Not a bad place, if you ask me.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Seth Godin is a genius

As you can tell from my Recommended Reading List that I am a huge fan of Seth Godin.  I subscribe to his blog, and am blown away by the wisdom Seth has.

Here is a copy of one of his latest posts titled Your Dent:

Are you making a dent in the universe?
Hint: lots of random pokes in many different spots are unlikely to leave much of an impact. And hiding out is surely not going to work at all.

Most of his posts aren't this short, but what is the wisdom packed in these three sentences?  If you want to poke a hole through a piece of tin, you smash one spot over and over and over again until you've successfully poked through.  The same thing goes with your passion, your calling, your . . . work.  If you want to make an impact on your family, your community, your nation, or even the world, become remarkable in one area and keep doing it over and over again.

What are you doing to make a dent?

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Writing Prompt Wednesday - Episode #21

Take your favorite book and re-write the opening paragraph.

Happy writing!

Is your story realistic?

Is your story realistic?

This may seem like a loaded question, for the word "realistic" completely undermines the entire genre fiction category, from fantasy to horror to science fiction.

But I don't mean realistic in terms of "Could this really happen?"  What I mean is this: could the events be realistic in the context of the story?

In my novel Beholder's Eye, which I am currently editing (after a two-month hiatus to self-publish my wedding planning ebook), I ran into a point where the main character experiences a gut-wrenching event that causes him to gather up all of the firearms he has, loads them in the back of his Ford Explorer, and drives away to try catch the killer.  Today, I sat back and examined this: would that be realistic?  As a former law enforcement officer, I know this is not realistic.  Cops don't wear three or four firearms when they're going out to catch a serial killer. They have one (one they are very familiar with and have shot thousands of rounds through) and lots of ammo clips.

Hence, I had to cut out all of the other firearms and narrow it down to just his main firearm.

Why?  Because it wasn't realistic.

Look at your story (this is especially helpful in the editing stage) and identify areas that don't seem realistic in the context of the story.  Then, imagine ways of correcting it.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

What is a simultaneous submission?

Recently, I submitted a short story for possible publication and in reading the guidelines I noted the typical statement of "Please no simultaneous submissions."  Then, even though I knew what it means, possibly others are asking the same question: what is a simultaneous submission?

In simple terms, for publications, simultaneous submissions means you submit one piece of your work to one publication at a time.  That's it.  Nothing complicated about it.

It could mean that even though you've submitted your work to one publication (or contest), it could be six months or more to hear back from them.  That's okay.  Just keep writing new pieces and submitting them other places.

The reason publications (or writing contests) do this is because of the following scenario: let's say you submitted it to two publications, then both accept it.  Now you have the painful process of advising one of them that they can't have it.  The result could be that both publications, even though they specified no simultaneous submissions, will not publish your work.

And that's not a very good place to be.