Saturday, May 17, 2014

The Writing New Year’s Day

Scott D. Parker

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the concept of the “Writing New Year.” I wrote how, on 1 May 2013, I made the decision to start writing again. This time, in earnest. What I ended up with with a second “New Year’s Day.” It’s my writing “New Year’s Day.”

I’ve thought about it in the days since then and I’ve come to the conclusion that having a day that you Start Writing* is important. It’s a starting point, a bright line in the sand. I do have an older one: July 27, 2005. That was the day I started working on my first novel. I think you can do the math and realize I fumbled for eight (man! I hate writing that number) years. I don’t count that first one since I didn’t follow it up with anything of substance. What’s fun about that first novel is the comp book I used to keep track of everything I experienced writing that first book: my research, my trials, my triumphs. I return to it every now and then just to relive the experience.

In the sixteen days since 1 May 2014, I’ve been able to look back on the year and see the highs and lows. Having that day, separate from anything else--it’s not my birthday or Christmas or Arbor Day or the actual New Year’s Day--makes it a unique day in my life, a day by which I can measure my progress and see what I can do better.

A Creative New Year’s Day is also a way to celebrate a year’s worth of work. Do y’all have one?

*I use the phrase “Start Writing” but you can substitute anything you’d like to do or learn.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Cut. Slash. Change.

Beware: Spoilers for THE GOOD SON



I know I've said it before, but it bears repeating:

Your book.

Needs an editor.

Earlier this evening I was talking to Neil Broadfoot (whose debut, Falling Fast, you really should check out) and we wound up discussing the importance of editors to the process of writing. Editors are a vital part of the process. And you can see their importance, especially when a writer has clearly not been edited. I'm not just talking about dotting i's and crossing t's, or checking spelling and full stops. I'm talking about someone getting involved in a writer's process, making them question decisions they made.

The reason I'm thinking about it because of the original ending of THE GOOD SON. Regular readers will know that the book ends on a vaguely hopeful note of McNee moving forward from his own despair. Its a light touch on the hand from Susan Bright, a moment of human connection in a book about loss. And it works. It also set up the ongoing question of whether McNee and Susan will ever actually have anything resembling a relationship, or whether the bad stuff that exists around them will keep them apart.

Its great, because it sets up an ongoing thread through the books that I've been able to use as a counterpoint to the crime plots. Its also been great for making McNee a little more human than he might otherwise appear. But in the original draft, that whole thread wasn't there. Instead, McNee's human connection was with Rachel, the sister of McNee's dead fiance.

Which made that final scene very strange indeed. 

I couldn't see it, of course. I had invested a lot in these characters. I thought that this was the way to go. But my editor looked at the scene and asked whether readers might not appreciate the fact that McNee - who has spent much of the book mourning his fiancee - was suddenly looking like he was about to cop off with the sister. It didn't do much to engage sympathy for either character.

My editor was the one who noticed that the scenes with Susan (she was a background character then) had some spark to them. He suggested using Susan as McNee's touchstone and in doing so opened up a whole new way for me to look at McNee and to create some of my favourite scenes in the series. It also allowed me to add more weight to book 3, where McNee's mentor (Susan's father) is killed at the very start of the book.

Without an editor, I would have kept things as they were. And the books would not have felt so complete. They wouldn't have been so honest. And when I looked back on them, I don't think I'd have been as proud of them as I am, now. A good editor is not just a reader. A good editor is not replaced by a friend reading through your book. A good editor is someone close enough to the book to want to love it, but removed enough to tell you when you're missing the mark.

An author is the ultimate voice of a book. But I truly believe that collaboration with a good editor - even if it only makes a difference to a few scenes - is essential to any good writing. A good writer creates a great book. A good editor finesses the work of a good writer. Often subtly, and in service of the artist's vision. But they do it in a way I believe can be indispensable when done properly.

So this post is dedicated to all the editor's I've worked with. For catching things big and small. For making me question my own convictions and for helping me create better books.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Little Guitars and Hop Alley

By Steve Weddle

One of the greatest things about being me is my forgetfulness.
Sure, we've also got my ginger charm, lactose intolerance, and uncanny ability to fall asleep at the beginning of an NFL halftime and wake with exactly five minutes left in the third, but the forgetting has proven pretty cool.

I was reminded of my forgetfulness when I heard Van Halen's "Little Guitars."

Senorita, I'm in trouble again, and I can't get free.

I'd forgotten what a fun, amazing little tune that is. How technically proficient, how precise and, yet, how sprawling, how inventive.

And, of course, there's the intro that you never heard on the radio.

In fact, the entire "Diver Down" album consists of instrumentals with the boys showing off, interspersed with catchy sing-along tunes, many covers (5 of 12) from your parents' stack of LPs.

"Cathedral" and "Intruder," for example. Those would never get radio play. Yet, they show that technical brilliance that you can't mistake, whatever the instrument. We're talking a fundamental extrapolation of root notes and then an exploration into their relative proximity to familial notes through the various chord structures. I was forcing my teenage daughter to listen to me and my "you kids don't know from music listen to this" chat the other day and found myself preaching from the hilltop about how Van Halen took the concept of rhythm guitar and kicked it right in the nards, letting the bass carry the tune while the guitar solo danced around octaves above and below. I was completely ridiculous about it, though I didn't go off on some made-up nonsense about "familial notes" I just made up a second on. The thing is, what these guys were doing decades ago was just amazing. They were putting out albums with catchy songs and slipping in these little experimenty, weirdly technical riffs between radio songs.

The 31-minute album is by no means perfect. It can be uneven and, I think you could say, somewhat of a mess overall.

But brilliance doesn't come from a constant, bright light. You gotta have sparkle. Shine. You have to have dimensions for a work to be brilliant.

Scott Phillips does this. In Cottonwood and Ice Harvest, for example, you have stories that work so well for radio play, but then rise to a level of technical mastery that, as a writer, is amazing to watch.

Phillips, and other writers of brilliance, generally don't have the luxury of segmenting off the flourishes from the foundation, the sizzle from the steak, as salesfolks say. In Cottonwood especially, Phillips tells a beautiful, gritty, heartbreaking story with so much dimension that I'm amazed anything was left for more books. Each page of the writing, each minute of reading, has to have the technical brilliance mixed in with the solid underpinning of story telling. The best books always do.

And so it is that I am looking forward to Hop Alley, the sequel to Cottonwood.

Van Halen followed "Diver Down" with "1984," which not only had cool "Hot for Teacher" opening, but also sold a gabillion copies.

Here's hoping Hop Alley has matching success. BUY

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Solving a Different Kind of Mystery

by Holly West

For most of my thirties, I didn't have to work. My husband's position as a video game programmer paid our bills and I was fortunate to have the time to do anything I wanted. During that period, I engaged in various craft-type pursuits--most notably, jewelry making. I flirted with making a career of it, but I just didn't have the business gene required to really make a go of it.

18k gold and tourmaline ring by Holly West, 2008

Truth be told, I was just biding time until I finally decided I was going to get serious about writing fiction.

But besides making jewelry, there was one hobby I had during this time that helped to launch me toward writing. Inspired by an older friend who'd completed a genealogy of his own family, I undertook a year-long research project, during which I wrote detailed genealogies of each side of my family.

I wasn't interested in seeing how many generations I could go back. It didn't matter if I was descended from Julius Ceasar--that sort of thing seemed irrelevant to my own life. My aim was to go back just a hundred years or so and learn my ancestors' stories. Why did my great-great grandparents leave Germany to come to America? What did my great-great-great grandpa do to support his family? Where did they live? Indeed, how did they live?

As it turned out, it was like hunting for buried treasure or solving a mystery. I discovered clues by scouring census reports, ship manifests, military (and even prison) records, and asking questions of my relatives who were still living.

Portion of the 1920 census that includes my great-great grandmother, Mary Ann Rebecca Baker Mansir Yorba.

1) During the depression, my grandpa on my mother's side, the oldest of eight children, drove everyone from Oklahoma to California in an old station wagon with a mattress tied to the top of the car. He got pulled over for speeding on the way.

2) My great-uncle, Jeff Daniel Horn, was left to raise four young children when his wife died unexpectedly. Shortly afterward, he brought the children to my great-grandmother to babysit. That very same night, he was hit by a car and killed, leaving my great-grandmother to raise the kids alongside her own. My guess is that he committed suicide that night, but we'll never really know, will we?

3) Using the 1910 census, I learned that my great-grandparents were employed by the same household before they were married. From this, I guessed that this must've been how they met. My great-grandmother died in 1918 of typhoid, when my grandmother was only five years old, and previously, no one knew this story.

4) My grandpa on my father's side was a bit of a scoundrel. As a youngster, he and his brothers would pull schemes like selling used motor oil as new, calling it "Midnight Oil" to their unsuspecting customers. My short story, ONCE A LOSER, is loosely based on his family. You can download a copy of it free by signing up for my newsletter.

5) When my great-grandpa on my father's side passed away, my uncle remembers going to the house where he'd lived and the relatives were storing beer in the ice under the bed that the body was laid out on.

Perhaps these tidbits are only interesting to me because they involve my own family. But what I learned from writing these genealogies, beyond the facts and figures, is that everyone has stories like these, and that they provide the sparks for larger stories. They are building blocks, if you will, or little details that give depth to our history and to our writing.

I'm curious: have you done any genealogical research? And referring to Kristi's Sunday post, what sorts of real-life stories do you use in your fiction?

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Guest Post: The Death Of Writing

This is translated from something the archaeologists found on the walls when they excavated the Well Of Souls in Tanis, 1936.

By Tepemkau Self

If you happen to be a writer -that greatest of gifts bestowed upon a man by the gods to provide a service to lesser mortals- you will find that your slaves act as great harbingers of doom, much as I imagine other unimportant creatures will in future.

On most occasions this takes on a literal form. We can send them down the mines, with the promise of some alcohol or a stout meal if they make it out alive, or we can command them to move the heaviest of rocks. But on days like this, they perform the service in a more figurative way.

I came upon a group of slaves who were gathered around something and chattering wildly. When they saw my approach, they fell silent. Now a man, if he has any sense, will treat his slaves well. So I joined in conversations with them and showed a polite interest in finding out whatever they had stolen from me. As it turned out, what they have stolen is my very future.

They were gathered around parchment made of papyrus or some similar form. The inscriptions on it where clearly a written language, but one I could only partially read. I recognised it faintly to be the same form of language that the common people have been speaking to each other. The stories they tell each other around camp fires at night in the desert, now given solid form and an affordable way by which to circulate it.

This, my friends, is the end of all things.

I can only assume the gods have chosen to abandon us.

No longer the life I have lived, nor the life of my father before me, and his father before him. The great pride and responsibility of being chosen to be a writer, of being charged with the craft of telling stories and improving our society. No more will people travel from thousands of miles around to see the epic tales I lovingly etch onto the walls.

We've entered an age when it seems anybody can now write and circulate a story. Even women or children, should they have such ambitions.

I can only assume that story-telling as an art form will die with me. Without a chosen one to protect it, who can keep it pure? Without the elevated and mighty scribe to shepherd the tale, who can save it from being twisted and diluted by the common tongue?

There will be nobody to tell the slaves and the poor what questions they should be asking of the world. Nobody to shape their thoughts and to help them better themselves. What will become of society if I can no longer sit and watch the world from this tower, and concentrate my purest thoughts into narratives for all to come and enjoy?

Nothing, my friends. A great nothing is coming. The end of my chosen lifestyle is not just the end of an era, it is the end of all eras.

Monday, May 12, 2014

The Importance of Rewriting

My debut novel, Toxicity, was published last month by Post Mortem Press. The edition available to readers right now clocks in at just over 78,000 words. When I hired freelance editor, Richard Thomas, the book was standing at 110,000 words, and after he finished with it, Toxicity shrunk to 96,000 words. After Post Mortem Press’s staff editor, Paul Anderson, dissected it, the book shot down to 78,000. These are just the editing passes of what I consider to be the final draft of the book. Before that? Man, it went through so many different rewrites, I literally lost count.

Toxicity actually took longer than any novel probably should to write, but I’ll forgive myself on account of it being my first and how young I was when I started it. Not a lot of people outside my personal life are aware of this, but I am only twenty years-old. I will be twenty-one this July. So when I tell you that I’ve been working on this novel for eight years, rewriting it and rewriting it, that means I started it when I was twelve.

I wrote the first draft in the span of a few days. It had nothing at all to do with drugs or robberies. It was simply about a trailer trash dysfunctional family (the Desperations) who one day randomly wins the lottery. Of course, the family was heavily based off my own family. I wrote about all these amusing misadventures Johnny and his brother got themselves into with the surrounding prude neighbors. The manuscript was page after page of only Johnny’s storyline, and as readers of the finalized book know, Johnny’s storyline is actually the least involved out of the three interweaving plots.

After a while of writing this then unnamed story, I realized I didn’t know where I was going in it, so I decided to shake things up. I had the doorbell suddenly go off, and when Johnny’s brother (who is heavily based off one of my own brothers) opened the door, Maddox Kane (in the first draft a professional hit-man, in the last draft an ex-baseball player/drug dealer) was standing there on the porch with a shotgun, and blew the brother away. The story then took a pause and rewound back to the beginning of the book, but through Maddox’s point of view.

As multiple drafts of the book proceeded, I gradually sprinkled more layers into the story—drugs, robberies, hallucinations, Harry Potter-themed rock bands, etc. Obviously the plot changed drastically. A title formed, based of the name of the fictional drug in the book: Jericho.

When I was thirteen, my life also changed drastically. Our family lost the house and we (my parents and I) moved into a hotel. Over the course of two and a half years we lived in various hotels and motels around Northern Indiana. During this time I did not attend school of any kind, and I was basically left to do three things: watch TV, read, or write. TV gets awfully boring after a while, so I spent the majority of my time reading and writing, which were two hobbies I was already obsessed with anyway. I used this time to write more drafts of Jericho, along with other short stories and half-assed books that will never see the light of day.

I joined a (now defunct) writing website called Members posted their writing online and others commented and offered feedback. I quickly embraced the community, and many of the members I am still good friends with to this day (I’m even in a relationship with one of them). It was during this time that I started posting the then titled Jericho as a serial, chapter-by-chapter. I received some excellent advice on the story, and eventually deleted all the chapters just before the website went down under.

I took all the notes I’d gathered and rewrote the book once again from scratch. Originally, it was told in three parts, going through an entire point of view and then rewinding to the beginning to the next character’s perspective. I scrapped this idea and started switching POVs throughout each chapter. I deleted characters and added them. I gave them wizard capes and made them accidentally do embarrassing things to their dogs. I was their God and I was a cruel one.

I finished it again and immediately began sending it off to agents. I expected to be rich by the end of the month.

Goddamn I was dumb.

So, so dumb.

It was rejected multiple times, and later I realized only a con artist would have accepted it as it was. So I rewrote it again. Then I rewrote it another time. Each new draft become better than the last. Each new day my skill as an author grew. I was recycling sentences and characters and slowly crafting together something worth talking about. I submitted it to a few small presses, and it was rejected every time. So I rewrote it again and changed the title to Black Cadillacs as I feared Jericho would get confused with the TV show, then I hired Richard Thomas to do a professional edit. At this time, the novel was 110,000 words.

After receiving Richard’s edits, I once again rewrote the damn thing, changed the title to Toxicity (it just seemed to fit better), and submitted it to Post Mortem Press (who had previously rejected the novel). They accepted it a month later.

A few months after that, I received new edits from the editing god, Paul Anderson, and I for the last time went through Toxicity.

Rewriting a book is not everyone’s cup of tea, but it is something I personally find crucial for my own writing process. I cannot consciously create an outline, but what I can do is create a badly written first draft full of ideas needing to be better fleshed out. So the first draft is my outline, and every draft afterward is one step forward to the finished piece. Although, of course, no piece is ever finished. Just as no child is ever finished being raised. One day you just have to realize it’s mature enough to hopefully not starve to death on the streets, and you kick ‘em out into the wild. 

Max Booth III is the author of two novels, TOXICITY and THE MIND IS A RAZORBLADE, along with a collection of flash fiction called THEY MIGHT BE DEMONS. He is the co-founder of Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing and the assistant editor of Dark Moon Digest. The editor of numerous anthologies, he has studied under Craig Clevenger and award winning editor, Jennifer Brozek. He writes columns for Litreactor, Revolt Daily, and Zombie POP. Raised in Northern Indiana, Max currently works as a hotel night auditor somewhere in San Antonio with his dachshund and life partner. Follow him on Twitter @GiveMeYourTeeth and visit him at

Sunday, May 11, 2014

The Story Behind the Story and Reggie (FREAKING) Jackson

When you are a writer, there is sometimes a story behind the story.
A while back when my writer’s group reviewed my second novel in the Gabriella Giovanni series, BLESSED ARE THE MEEK, they snickered about this passage:
It’s not the first time I’ve written about a naked car crash victim. The last naked guy I wrote about was drunk and masturbating when he caused a four-car wreck.
After listening to the comments from my fellow writers, it was my turn to talk and I shared the story behind the story:
When I was a cops reporter at the Monterey Herald newspaper, I was making my routine cop calls when the sergeant on duty told me he had a good one for me.
I couldn’t wait.
He told me a hilarious story — and gave me really great, sarcastic quotes — about a drunk guy driving down the road masturbating. The story got better as it went on: the drunk was buck naked. After the crash, he tried to fight off the medics, punching and kicking them. They had a tough time restraining him because his naked bod kept slipping out of their grasp. (Ew.)
It was a good story. Short and sweet. It didn’t get a whole lot of play in the paper and was buried on an inside page somewhere. But people found it. And loved it.
That weekend, my husband and I went to our favorite breakfast spot where I knew the owners from a previous newspaper story I’d written. When we got there, I saw they had taped my naked man story to the wall near the front counter and we had a laugh about it.
Later, I was digging into my eggs and sausages at a table on the patio when the owner appeared at my side. I looked up. Next to her was Hall-of-Famer Reggie (FREAKING) Jackson!

“Hey, Kristi,” the owner said. “Reggie wanted to meet you. He loved your story.”
I practically choked on my hash browns. Reggie (FREAKING) Jackson wanted to meet me? Reggie Jackson, football AND baseball player AND Hall of Famer wanted to meet lowly girl reporter.
Okay. That’s cool.
Reggie (hey, we’re technically on a first-name basis at this point) whipped out his wallet, gave me his card, and then unfolded a well-worn version of my newspaper story. He told me he’d been carrying it around for a week, showing all his friends.
So, there you go, the story behind the story, which is how writing about a naked drunk driver garnered me an introduction to Reggie (FREAKING) Jackson.
Do you have any good stories behind the story you can share?