Tag Archives: writing

Better-Late-Than-Never End-Of-Year 2017 Wrap-Up

I’m over a week late with this post, but here it is. 2017 was, to say the least, an interesting year. But let’s just stick with this blog and what I’ve been up to and leave the wider world to bigger blogs.

Once again, the most popular page on the blog was my Graham Crackers in the UK Update post. It baffles me why this post is so popular. After all, this is a writing/books type blog, not a food blog. Is no-one else covering this topic? I’d like to think that the many people who check out that page stick around and read some of the other posts (1,236 of them including this one). But that’s probably wishful thinking.

The biggest thing that happened on the blog in 2017 was the focus-shift to writing. I’m a writer, no two ways about it, whether it’s novels, short stories, flash fiction, articles, essays, wish lists–I write. Yes, I do other things (music, theology, watch copious amounts of Doctor Who), and I love doing those things. But writing has been that thing I’ve always done even before I learned to play an instrument. While those other things will still have a home here (Who Reviews, Sunday School Notes, Music Monday), I’m determined to give this blog more of a writer focus.

Speaking of writing, one of the biggest writing events for me in 2017 was my first ever short story sale. I still love telling people that you can read my story in the October 2017 issue of Empyreome Magazine. It’s a good one, too–even if I say so myself. 🙂

Looking ahead to 2018, I’m hoping to write more short stories, and maybe even get a few more published. I already have one story due to be published in the February 2018 issue of Riggwelter, so look out for that. Hopefully there will be more to follow. I’d also like to finish another novel, but mainly I want to keep writing, keep producing stories, and improve.

I need to do a better job of keeping this blog up to date with writing stuff. I’ve let my Facebook page go stale since Christmas, so I need to fix that. And I’m still planning to start a Patreon sometime in the very near future.

Thank you to everyone who has been following my blog thus far. I hope you’ll stick around for the ride in 2018, with, hopefully, lots of exciting things to share!

A Christmas FlashDogs Story: The Director’s Cut

Last Thursday, I submitted a story to the weekly FlashDogs challenge. Each week, the FlashDogs blog posts a picture prompt and a theme around which participants write flash stories. There’s a 2,000 character (a little over 300 words) limit, but aside from these constraints, writers are free to write what comes to mind. This was the picture prompt last week:

There was no theme prompt, so we were free to roll with the picture.

The original story I wrote was 514 words long. I liked it, but it needed some serious abridgment for the FlashDogs challenge. I agonized over every word I chopped, but I got it down to 338 words, which was just enough to meet the character count. While I’m pleased with the edited version, I still like the original. I like the slower build, each line stringing the reader along until we get to the punchline. The edited version doesn’t leave as much room for dramatic tension. At least, I don’t think so.

You can decide for yourself whether you agree. The edited version is on the FlashDogs site. And here is the original, longer version:

The girl stomped snow from her boots as she climbed the stone steps of the porch. She knocked on the door as hard as she could wearing fleece-lined leather mittens. It was more of a thud than a knock, but it would have to do. It was too cold to hit bare flesh against solid wood. She was sure her knuckles would break. Footsteps, then the door unlatched and creaked open.“Yes?” A plump lady with silver hair, round glasses perched on the end of her nose, and a rosy smile greeted her. The girl grinned, and the lady’s rosy smile blossomed.

“I’d like to see Mr. Claus,” the girl said. The lady chuckled.

“Of course you do, my dear! Won’t you come in?”

“No, that’s okay,” the girl replied, her smile disappearing. “I have some private business to discuss. Better outside, I think.” The lady shrugged her shoulders.

“If you insist,” she said. “But it’s a mighty cold day. Not that we’re complaining. Nothing like a good chill to spur on the reindeer…” Her voice drifted as she disappeared into the house.

A few moments later, a familiar figure appeared at the door.

“Ho! Ho! Ho!” said Santa. “And what can I do for you, young lady?”

“Let’s take a walk, please, Mr. Claus. I’ve come a long way, but this shouldn’t take long.”

“Very well.”

“Are you well, Mr. Claus?” the girl said as they walked.

“Yes, very,” Santa replied, clearly confused.

“And the reindeer? All ready for tonight? Rudolf’s nose glowing nice and bright?”

“The elves are polishing it as we speak. Supposed to be quite a blustery exit from the North Pole this evening.”

 “Glad to hear it,” the girl replied. Santa was used to childish enthusiasm from girls her age, and this girl’s lack of it disturbed him a little.

“What can I do for you… Anneka, isn’t it?”

“Yes, it’s Anneka, Mr. Claus. Did you get my list?”

“I did,” said Santa. “It was quite… um… extensive.”

“But it won’t be a problem, right?”

“Well… not everyone gets everything they want, you know. I don’t want to spoil you.” Santa tried to smile, but something about the steely look she gave made his mouth falter.

“But this time, that won’t be a problem.” Before Santa could respond, Anneka stopped and took out her phone.

“Oh, wasn’t that a present a couple of years ago?”

Anneka didn’t reply. She removed her gloves, swiped the screen a few times, then held it up for them both to see. Santa’s eyes nearly popped from his head.

“Last year, Mr. Claus. You didn’t notice, but… I saw mommy kissing Santa Claus. Underneath the mistletoe. See?”

Santa grumbled. “Umm… yes… but I can…”

“It’s simple, Mr. Claus. Everything on my list, or this picture gets sent to Mrs. Claus. Do we understand each other?”

Santa grumbled.

“I didn’t hear you, Mr. Claus.” Anneka glared at the old man. “Do we understand each other.”

“Yes… umm… yes.”

Anneka pocketed her phone, put on her mittens, and walked away.

“Merry Christmas,” she said without turning.

Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments. Original or Edited…?

NaNoWriMo Has Begun!

Here we are… November 1st! Doesn’t it seem like this year has flown by? Soon it’ll be Thanksgiving, then Christmas, and then before you know it, it’s 2018! But never mind all that, because for the next 30 days (including today), I’m going to be writing a novel. I wrote about my NaNoWriMo project last week, so I won’t get into what it’s about again… though, thanks to an idea I had a few days ago, that little synopsis is already inaccurate.

Anyway, all this to say this blog probably won’t see a lot of activity for the next month. Please feel free to drop notes of encouragement either in the comments here, or on Twitter, or Facebook. I’ll try to post quick updates in those places as I have time. If you’re doing NaNo too this year and would like to be “buddies,” my NaNo name is cds.

Thanks for your support and encouragement! 😀

NaNoWriMo 2017 Novel Reveal!

In a little over a week, I will begin a month of anguish, joy, frustration, elation, and sleep deprivation known as National Novel-Writing Month (NaNoWriMo).

What Is NaNoWriMo?

Willing participants spend the month of November writing a novel with a minimum word count of 50,000.* The thinking behind this mind-boggling proposition when it was first launched some years ago was that many people say they want to write a novel, but few ever actually try. This is the month to try. And setting a word count and time limit forces you to be disciplined and actually do it. Not everyone who takes part has aspirations to being a professional novelist. There are those who do it just to check that goal off their bucket list. Some simply want to see if they can. Not everyone makes it to 50,000 words. Life sometimes gets in the way and they have to bail early. No-one’s judging. Though you do earn a cool banner if you “win.”

I did NaNoWriMo a few years ago, and used the month to write a 77,000 word novel, mostly from scratch. That novel went through revisions, beta reads, and polishing until it was ready to query. After taking through the query process for a number of months, however, I shelved it. Agent response and writerly intuition was telling me it still wasn’t ready. Maybe another time. Given my renewed zeal for my writing, I decided this would be a good year to give NaNoWriMo another shot.

My 2017 NaNoWriMo Project

I wrote my first serious attempt at a novel about 10 years ago. I wrote it all out by hand in notebooks, and had a blast doing it. When I finished it, I put it away and moved on to other writing projects, a couple of novellas, some short stories, flash fiction, eventually two more novels, all the time reading and improving both my understanding of the publishing world, and my writing skill. But that story in the drawer has haunted me ever since. I like the characters. I like the story. And while I’ve always known it’s far from perfect, and needs a lot of editing (it’s about 300,000 words long), I’ve also believed it deserves being crafted into a saleable novel. Sometime.

After thinking over various potential projects for this year’s NaNoWriMo, I came to the realization that this is the year. This is the time. I’m ready to take this:

and turn it into a novel I can shop to agents and maybe, hopefully, one day see published.

I’ve given it the working title of PORTALIS. That will undoubtedly change, have no fear! But it’ll do for now. I’ve also thrown together a brief synopsis for my NaNo profile that is also inadequate, but will do to give a hint of what it’s about. For those who can’t access my profile (you have to be registered with NaNoWriMo to see profiles), here it is:

English college students Jason and Jessica meet a strange man who whisks them away to an alternate world, where a colony of Angles, Saxons, Jutes, Celts, Gaels, and Danes have been living since the turn of the 11th century. For the last thousand years, they have co-existed in relative peace, building a society untouched by the Norman Conquest, the Wars of the Roses, the English Civil Wars, British Colonization, and two World Wars. But past rivalries are not easily forgotten, and our heroes soon find themselves embroiled in a power struggle that threatens the future of this world, and their own…

I’ve classified it as “Fantasy” since that’s the closest category that fits, I think.

So, expect November to be fairly light on the blog. I’ll try to post updates to my Facebook page. If you’re on FB you can follow me there. Also, if you’re doing NaNoWriMo, feel free to make me a Buddy so we can cheer each other on!

*FYI, a 50,000 word novel is, in fact fairly short, unless you’re writing Middle Grade. Most Young Adult novels are between 70-90,000 words. Adult novels can range anywhere from 80-100,000 words. Even more if you write fantasy, or you’re Stephen King. But 50,000 is a reasonable goal for most, and you can always add to it later.

Published!!

The October 2017 issue of Empyreome Magazine went live yesterday morning (Saturday, October 7), featuring my story, “Time in a Bottle”!!! I’ve been throwing exclamation points and being generally obnoxious all over the internet telling the world, so I thought it about time I announce it on my blog.

To answer those questions I posed last week:

What’s it called?

“Time in a Bottle”

What inspired it?

Believe it or not, the Jim Croce song, “Time in a Bottle.” In the song, Croce yearns to be able to bottle up time, so he could have an endless supply to spend with loved ones, and do the things he wants to do. Jim recorded the song in 1972, and it was released as a single in 1973 after his untimely death in a plane crash.

Where can I find it? When will it be available?

It’s available now, right here: Empyreome, Vol.1, Issue 4.

I hope you enjoy it! 🙂

Breaking News: I Sold a Story!

Yes, ladies and gentlemen–I’m going to be published! The folks at Empyreome Magazine (that’s pronouned em-peer-ee-ohm) have deemed one of my stories worthy of publication in their illustrious journal, and to that end are willing to part with hard-earned money to place my story in their October 2017 issue. Granted, it’s not a lot of hard-earned money since they are a young enterprise, and still growing. Nevertheless, like the widow’s mite, it’s not the amount that matters. In this case, it’s the fact they saw value in my work that matters to me.

I’m particularly pleased this story is going to be published. It’s one of my favorites, and through Empyreome, more people will have the opportunity to read it than I can reach with my meager online presence.

What’s it called? What inspired it? Where can I find it? When will it be available? I will post a link to it on this blog when the October 2017 issue of Empyreome goes online. You will be able to read it on their website in HTML, or you can purchase a digital copy in pdf and other e-book formats. I’ll also answer these and any other questions you may have at that time.

Until then… 😀

NaNoWriMo 2017, Here I Come!

NaNoWriMo–National Novel Writing Month–is soon upon us. For the month of November, hundreds, maybe thousands, of people will attempt to write a novel at least 50,000 words long. The novel can be about anything, and the author can approach it however he or she wishes (plot, edit as you go, “pants,” hybrid plot-pants (which has nothing to do with gardening), etc.)–in fact, there aren’t many rules. To do it “properly,” you must start the novel with a blank page, and complete at least 50,000 words by November 30th. You can plan, research, draw characters, create character bios, even cast the movie version of your story as much as you want prior to November 1. However, you are not supposed to begin the actual novel until day one of the challenge.

I did NaNoWriMo a few years ago, and completed a 70,000+ word novel. After editing and revising, it plumped up to around 80,000 words, and I even queried it, to no avail (obviously, otherwise I’d have an agent and maybe books published). But it was fun, and showed me how productive I can be if pushed. Given my renewed focus on writing, it seemed only right that I should give NaNoWriMo another go. So that’s what I’ll be doing for the month of November.

If you’ve never tried writing a novel, you may think 50,000 words is a lot of words. You’re right. It is. There are many who start NaNo and don’t finish. So you will excuse me if blog posts are a little light and perhaps not as frequent in November. I will try to post quick updates to Facebook and Twitter, so follow me there if you want to find out how I’m getting along.

If you’d like to give NaNoWriMo a try, go to the Official Site and sign up! If you’ve signed up, hunt me down (my user name is cds) and be my buddy. 🙂

Are you doing NaNoWriMo this year?

Become a Patron of the Arts… for $1/month!

Do you know who this guy is? His name is Ludovico Sforza. He was Duke of Milan from 1494-1499, but most notably, he was a patron of Leonardo da Vinci. In fact, it was his money that enabled Leonardo to paint this:

Back in that day, artists relied upon patrons to provide them an income, freeing them to produce the works of art we have all come to love, and that enrich our lives. These days, however, art and entertainment has become so ubiquitous, few give a moment’s thought to how much time and talent goes into producing the music we listen to, the movies we watch, or the books we read. And often, those creators have to hold down other jobs so they can eat and pay bills while they create the things we love. If only there was a way for people to become patrons to artists today…

Enter PATREON.

Patreon was founded in 2013 by Jack Conte, a musician and YouTuber who wanted to provide a means for creative people to be able to create, and not have to worry about how they’re going to pay the bills while they work on their art. For a token amount every month (often as low as $1), you can help support an artist, and in return not only do you get the pleasure of knowing you have helped bring art into the world, but the creator will often offer “thank you” gifts for their patrons.

All this is leading up to an announcement:

I’m starting a Patreon for my writing. I’ll be launching the site soon, but I wanted to let you all know about it ahead of time so I can get some feedback.

Why do I feel like I need a Patreon site? After all, I have a full-time job. There are three main reasons:

  1. The Encouragement. Even the most seemingly self-assured writer lives in self-doubt. Stephen King will be the first to tell you he often feels a fraud, and is in fear of being “found out.” That’s why it’s always nice when people express genuine appreciation for my work. How much more encouraging it would be if people could back up that appreciation with some kind of financial investment! For published writers, that investment usually comes in the form of book sales. I don’t have anything published yet, so Patreon is the next best thing.
  2. The Extra Money. My job covers the bills, but doesn’t leave a lot of room for much else. I’d love to go to writing conferences, feel like I can afford to keep my computer working, or even just take time off work to spend writing, or relaxing with the family.
  3. The Discipline. I plan to offer patrons new flash fiction every month, and samples of things I’m working on. This means I need to have something to show for my writing efforts every month. What better way to help me keep focused than to think of all the people pledging money to help me write and looking forward to their monthly reward?

I’ll have two levels of patronage: $1.00/month gets you a free flash story, and $3.00 (or more)/month will get you the flash story, plus a sample of my current Work in Progress.

What do you think? A good idea? A bad idea? Do the rewards sound enticing? Your feedback, please!

UPDATE: Please note, comments and likes are NOT understood to be a commitment to patronize. Just let me know what you think. Also, I might not limit the reward to just flash fiction. Some months it may be poetry, or a song parody. Something special just for patrons. At the $3.00+ level, I might also throw in some cat pictures…

Some Thoughts on… The Synopsis

So you’ve written a novel, and it has been beta read, revised, edited, re-written, and buffed and polished until it shines, sings, and dances tangos around your typewriter. (Okay, so you don’t use a typewriter. But your manuscript probably doesn’t sing and dance either. Stay with me on this.) In other words, you’re ready to query.

You start going down your agent list, and Agent Number One, the “Dream Agent” (which you really shouldn’t have, but you do–can’t help it… we’ll talk about that another time), wants this thing called a “Synopsis.” What’s that? Well, etymologically speaking, the word comes from the Greek words sun and opsis, which together mean something like “seeing together.” (The Greek verb horao means “to see”; its future form, opsomai, has the same root as the noun opsis. Yes, in Classical Greek two tenses of the same verb can have different root forms. Isn’t Greek fun?) The first three Gospels in the New Testament are referred to as “Synoptic” because they have many stories in common that can be read in parallel. Over time, however, the word “synopsis” has come to mean (at least in English) a compressed overview of something. “Don’t go into detail; just give me a synopsis.” This could be a summary of the results of some experiment. Or, more commonly, a heavily abbreviated re-telling of a story. So when an agent asks for a synopsis, she’s asking for a 2-5 page summary of the novel, including all main plot points, even how it ends.

What’s the difference between a synopsis, and your 250-word query blurb? Your query blurb is meant to entice the agent to read your novel. You’ll introduce the main character and briefly describe the driving conflict behind the novel. You’re not giving away plot points, or the ending. The point is to make the agent request the manuscript so she can read what happens. Your blurb will be engaging, full of voice, and reflect the style of the story (witty? dramatic? creepy?). The synopsis, on the other hand, will be a pretty dry recounting of the events, so the agent can see how well you work out the plot, and whether the ending is worth the effort.

Here’s a pictorial representation of the difference between a query blurb, and a synopsis. First, this is your novel:

Now, here’s the query blurb.

See? Aren’t you enticed to find out more? And this is the synopsis:

Get the idea? The synopsis gives you a rough idea of the picture without any of the color, detail, or artistry that went into writing the novel.

And this is why many writers hate writing synopses. I mean, who in their right mind thinks that depiction of the Mona Lisa does da Vinci’s original justice? Sure, you get the idea that it’s a picture of a lady sitting outside somewhere. But where’s the skin tone? Where’s the detail on the trees? And where’s that enigmatic smile? The synopsis doesn’t entice. There’s no character, no depth, no artistry. You might pay millions for the original Mona Lisa, but you wouldn’t give a penny for the synopsis.

Those who want a synopsis would probably argue that the reason they want one is because they have already been enticed by the query, and like what they see of the writing in the first few pages. Before they offer representation, however, they need to know quickly whether you can construct a plot, and see it through to a satisfying conclusion. They know you can write, but can you write a marketable story? Basically, the synopsis will tell them whether or not its worth taking the time to read the entire manuscript.

Personally, I don’t think that’s fair. If an agent likes the query, and likes the writing, he should at least read the manuscript and discover the rest of the story with all the voice and color the writer intended. If he gets to the end and isn’t satisfied, he may still love the writing enough to ask for a “revise and resend” (i.e., suggest changes and ask the writer to re-submit when those changes have been made). Or he may pass on it anyway. The point is, reading a synopsis doesn’t do anything more for the agent than would reading the manuscript, other than save time because it won’t take as long. This doesn’t do justice to the work as a whole.

But what can you do? Not much. If an agent asks for a synopsis, unless you don’t really want to be represented by that agent, you have to follow the submission guidelines. On the plus side, writing a synopsis of your novel can be a useful exercise. If there are weaknesses in the plot, a synopsis will show them pretty starkly. No fluffy language hiding the fact that the dead waitress in chapter 5 is alive and well in chapter 7. Or that the major piece of evidence revealed in chapter 20 couldn’t exist because of a plot point in chapter 3.

And, so I’m told, even when you get a publishing deal, the demand for synopses won’t go away. Publishers will want to see a synopsis of each novel you write, and you will be the one to write them. So my advice is to suck it up and get used to it. Who said this writing gig was easy? Not me. Probably Harvey Q. Brakklehauser. Heard of him? No? My point.

What thoughts do you have about synopses? Any advice? Horror stories? Or do you actually like writing them?

Some Thoughts on Writing Rules

(Yes, I know this is a post about writing, but considering the feedback I received when I wrote about not giving writing tips any more, I feel a bit more emboldened to take the plunge. Feel free to comment your disagreements or alternative viewpoints.)

I’ve probably said something about writing rules in the past. If I have, it was long enough ago that I’ve forgotten, and you probably have too. In fact, I’ll probably repeat myself. Feel free to search through the blog archives to see if I’ve changed my mind on the subject. You can then quote me against myself and watch as I have an argument with Old Colin. It’ll be like watching a dog chasing its tail. On the other hand, you could just read on and argue with me yourself. 🙂

The earnest writer embarking on “serious writing” for the first time, will soon encounter “rules” they need to follow if they are to write well. These rules include such stalwarts as:

  • Show Don’t Tell
  • Avoid adverbs (totally, absolutely, completely, and wholeheartedly)
  • Don’t end sentences with a preposition
  • Don’t start with the weather
  • Don’t start with the protagonist waking up from a dream
  • Only ever use “said” as a speech indicator (“What?” he said)
  • Avoid clichés like the plague

… and so on. There are lots more you can find online, I’m sure.

Here’s my main beef with these rules. When you are writing fiction, or even narrative non-fiction (i.e., non-fiction that reads like a novel), there are no rules. Creative writing is just that: creative. It is an exercise of the imagination, and where the imagination is concerned, anything goes.

Let me make one thing clear. As a Christian, I believe wholeheartedly in absolutes. There are rules by which the universe operates, and there are standards of morality whereby we were designed to function best to the glory of our Creator. I am by no means a moral pragmatist. However, when it comes to artistic endeavors, I am totally sold on the principle that what’s right is what works.

These “rules” have a place. They can guide us to better practices. When a piece of writing isn’t working, try applying some of these rules. But don’t feel enslaved to them. Sometimes (probably more often that we’d like to admit), telling makes for better narrative than showing. Sometimes adverbs are not only unavoidable, but necessary. There are great stories that start with the weather, or a dream. There are times when “said” doesn’t say enough. And a cliché might, on occasion, fit the prose better than an original saying.

But how do you know when to break the “rules”? How do you know when your writing “works”? That’s the tough question, partly because, despite what the MFA Police and the Grammar Gestapo would tell you, there is no universal standard of “good writing.” I’ve read best sellers that made my writerly skin crawl, and I’ve read freebie stories on the internet that make my literary heart sing. Even among the “Classics” there are books that people love to read even 100 years after they were first published, and books that are a struggle to get through the first 10 pages. Why these are “Classics” is an argument for the academics, and academics will disagree over which books belong in that blessed canon, which proves my point.

So how do you know if your writing “works”? In my experience… here it comes… the big answer… the key to unlock the mysteries of writing… you just know. What??! Yes, I know, that’s a bit lame, but it’s the truth. But how do I know? Because I read a lot, and I guess I have some facility with words (so I’ve been told), I know when a sentence rings true and when it clunks. I don’t always see it, which is why having beta readers is useful. But often I know when I’ve written something worthy of being read by others, and when I ought to just delete and start over.

How does that help you, O budding wordsmith? First, if you love books, and love writing, you probably have an intuition toward what makes a good sentence. You can feel the rhythm of the language, and you’re not afraid to spend minutes or hours mulling over the correct way to phrase something, or the best word to use out of two or three alternatives. In your first draft, trust your instincts. Write boldly, without fear of Strunk, White, or Elmore Leonard. Then review your work, and edit ruthlessly, giving in to that same urge that would take a red pen to a best selling novel. Then give your work to some trusted friends. They may agree with your choices, or they may disagree. Listen to their suggestions. If they say “You’re telling not showing here,” don’t immediately think you’ve done something wrong. Ask, “Yes, but is telling better here than showing?” Your friend might be hitting you with a rule simply because you broke one, not because the rule works.

Okay, enough of my waffling. Let’s have some other points of view. First, here’s an hour-long presentation writer Lee Child gave on the subject of writing rules and why he doesn’t believe in them. (It’s in two parts; watch them in the order I’ve linked them.) In some literary circles, what he says here is blasphemy, and would be cause to have him burned as a heretic. That alone makes these videos worth watching. I don’t agree with everything he says, but I urge you to hear him out and give what he says some thought:

Next, I recommend Jeff Somers’ Unconventional Writing blog, similarly packed with MFA-defying heresies, couched in Jeff’s incomparable wit and charm with a dusting of profanity:

Writing Without Rules–Unconventional Tips for Writing the Wrong Way

Now it’s your turn. What do you think of writing rules? Agree with me? Disagree? Comment below!