Saturday, October 3, 2015

Internalizing Story Structure

Scott D. Parker

We talk a lot about story structure and tools of the writer's trade. Turns out, were not the only ones that see it. Case in point is what happened to me this week.

I was at a going-away lunch for three of my now former colleagues. I sat next to an engineer who, as it turns out, is a voracious reader. I had given him "The Box Maker," my first western as part of the new Triple Action Western imprint. We got to talking about books and the type of books he likes to read. I mentioned an experience I had a couple of years ago when I visited a few estate sales in the area. For three consecutive estate sales, the man of the house had had a man cave, for lack of a better word. It was the study/room, usually dark wood-paneled, with the recliner, that the man of the house would escape to whenever he needed the solitude. Those three houses all had one thing in common: an entire bookshelf full of Louis L'Amour novels. That was when I realized that L’Amour novels were just what men read back in the day. My co-worker and I both agreed that seem to be an equivalent now.

As part of that discussion, my engineer/coworker started talking about how L'Amour structured his novels. "You gotta have a man, usually a lone man, who is really good with the gun. There’s gotta be a bad guy the good guy was has fight. This has to be a love interest, a woman that the man loves. You have to set up the final showdown, usually right after the hero gets his chin bloodied by the bad guy. Then you have the final showdown."

As I sat there and listened to him say this, I realized he had internalized the basic three-act story structure. I think many other people do as well, but it was interesting to have it explained — in much more detail than I just did here — exactly what he (and us?) like to see in a novel. He said he hoped I found a character that clicked with readers and could write an entire series.


On a side note, we writers often wonder if free copies or cheap copies can actually turn out to be a good investment. For me, it’s a yes. A month ago, I gifted this same engineer the first Triple Action Western, "The Box Maker." He read it over a weekend. He really enjoyed it, so much so that on the following Monday, he made a joke about the twist ending. Ironically, it to me a few minutes to figure out what he was talking about because I had no context. Well, after the lunch on Thursday, he brought over his Kindle and showed me that latest Triple Action Western yarn, "The Agony of Love," was queued up in his Kindle. He pushed the “Buy” button and said, "You've just made some royalties."

He topped himself yesterday by letting me know he had purchased WADING INTO WAR and THE PHANTOM AUTOMOBILES. I thanked him very much. He said that he might get them all read this weekend! Certainly something that makes a writer feel good. An investment of $1 returned $6. I'll take that any day of the week.


I won’t be attending Bouchercon this year, but I’ll definitely be there in 2016. New Orleans is driving distance. Have fun, y’all.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Lessons from the Corporate World: Project Management for Writers

Guest Post By Angel Luis Colón

Holly's note: Don't let Angel Colón's gritty writing fool you: he's one of the nicest guys around. I asked him to write this post because I think he's a writer to watch. As he explains below, he's only been serious about his writing for a few years, but he's managed to pack a big punch in that time. I figured we could all learn something from him.

I’ve got a little secret: writing as a career? I’ve only been serious about it for three years now. Well, less than three years really.

Now, let’s backtrack. I always WANTED to be a writer. I studied Journalism and Creative Writing in College (according to my BA, I might even be a journalist). I’ve been a voracious reader since I can remember. I also spent a lot of my 20’s impressing people with my lofty ambitions and all the epics of epicness locked inside my amazing brain. That wasn’t enough, though.

It wasn’t that I didn’t have some level of skill—I could write. Hell, I could write FAST—scary fast. There were even people that looked at words I’d put on paper and said, “Oh, this is good,” with minimal surprise in their voice.

Unfortunately, to paraphrase the great teacher, John Kimble, I lacked discipline.

I may live my life by his example more than I realize
So what changed? What helped me move forward and gain external successes (meaning publications and other fun writing gigs)? What keeps me working to grab at the next set of rungs on the never-ending ladder?

Well, a lot really. I got serious about being a better writer, about being published and grabbing any and all opportunities I could. But, that all didn’t just happen. It didn’t click into place until I realized I could actually apply the career that paid my bills to the career that stoked my ego.

Mind = BLOWN.

A lot of writers have a day job, that’s no secret. We toil at our computers and notebooks when we’re not toiling at company-owned computers and notebooks. It is what it is. By day, I’m a pretty buttoned up guy who sold his soul to the corporate hole years ago.

I’m a Project/Program Manager. It’s boring. It’s also an incredibly useful field to be in when you’re a writer. Why? Because it demands a level of discipline and goal-setting skills that are built to make things effectively happen. And when I say goals, I don’t mean ‘get published’ or ‘dethrone JK Rowling in one on one combat’ (have you seen her with a katana? Unstoppable). That’s not how managing a project works.

Projects have tangible end goals, but they never actually end. There are always opportunities for improvement and never a time to ignore your work.

Now, I’m not the biggest fan of one size fits all writing advice. I prefer to pick at advice like a carrion bird and apply it in a way that makes sense to me.

In some circles of Project Management we have a little something called DMAIC. Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control. Exciting right? But it’s surprisingly applicable to your writing career.

Here’s a little example (and mind you, I play fast and loose because, like I said before, this is how I make it work for me):

Define: This is your goal, let’s keep this bite-sized and use one I try to stick to.
Write, on average, 9-12 short stories this year (a spread goal gives us room to work with, hard goals are too rigid and muck up process easily. Always best to have a lower and higher limit).

That’s a lofty one, but it’s accomplishable.

Now next:
Measure: Let’s check what we’ve done in the past and what we’re capable of. Last year, we wrote 7 short stories over 12 months.
Okay, great we would need two more stories to hit our lower limit. What was our output, word count, etc? Can we do better?
600 words a day – maybe we can push to 700/800.

Analyze: I know my numbers, but can I enhance or repeat?
Maybe I can talk with my wife (a ‘key stakeholder’) and get an extra half hour to write each day.
Or I can fit it into my commute or lunch.
How do my weekends look?
Has my work quality suffered when I overdid it? When have I burned out before? Maybe we can keep a journal and see how many words we do on consecutive days. When do the words peter off?

We have all that in order. We’ve decided to talk things over with the spouse.

Improve: The spouse can give us more time (yay!)
It’s only fifteen minutes. (boo!)
But I have some free weekends coming up, let’s take Sundays and try to keep out of commitments as much as we can until we’re at a place we feel our output is up to snuff.
Wait, crap, where do I fit my editing time?
This is when we pilot our methods as well. What’s tough during Improve is that you may need to hop back to prior steps. Refining process is deeply, deeply important and you’ll find the extra work will help in the long term.

So it all worked out. We’re in a rhythm and we’ve written a few stories.

We’re in:
Control: This is when process is launched and going.
But I hit a wall. The holidays AND writer’s block have snuck up on me.

And that’s why it’s a Control phase. We’re never really “done." There are a lot of reasons beyond not having time too. We’re still learning, networking, exploring. Maybe there are classes we want to take, maybe there’s a novel burning a hole into our head. Nothing is necessarily an obstacle—just an opportunity for improvement. Being disciplined doesn’t mean there isn’t room to bend or change whatever doesn’t work.

And here’s the deal: none of this equals external success. That’s a whole lot of other factors that people literally write volumes on. Still, internal success can sure as hell help to push you towards external success more often. I’ve found that my writing career has blossomed when I’ve found discipline and placed my priority on those internal successes. Maybe you will too.

Also, bribe people with cookies/alcohol—OFTEN.

BIO: Angel Luis Colón is the author of THE FURY OF BLACKY JAGUAR. His fiction has been shortlisted for the Derringer and has won an award or two. His nonfiction has appeared in The LA Review of Books, The Life Sentence, and My Bookish Ways. He’s also an editor at Shotgun Honey, home of some of the finest hardboiled flash fiction on the Internet. Find out more at or ignore him on Twitter under the handle @GoshDarnMyLife.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Blessed Are Those Who Mourn

by Kristi Belcamino

The fourth book in my mysteries series featuring a San Francisco Bay Area newspaper reporter comes out in two days!

If you think you might be interested in reading my latest book, please consider pre-ordering it - even though it comes out in two days. For some reason pre-orders count a lot to publishers. (Don't ask me to explain the inner machinations of the publishing world and why this is - wish I knew!) If you do decide to pre-order, please shoot me an email at with a screen shot and I'll send you out a small thank you.

Here is what some early reviewers are saying about it on Goodreads:

"Kristi Belcamino knocks it out of the park with her best novel to date."

"Reader beware: the emotionally fraught drama of this suspense-filled gem will tug at the most hardened heartstrings! A bravura piece of story telling by a stellar talent."

"Another winner from Kristi Belcamino! This author is on fire!"

"She is one of the best new writers I have read."

"You will find the main character, Gabriella, to be strong, smart, sassy and endearing."

"I hope to see more books by this writer. She never disappoints." 

"So much fast action, so much murder and mayhem this book flies to a thrilling conclusion."

Here is the official blurb and links to pre-order if you are so inclined:
Local indie bookstores in my area.
If you call them, I will come in and personalize the paperback for you before they send it off.

San Francisco Bay Area reporter Gabriella Giovanni has finally got it all together: a devoted and loving boyfriend, Detective Sean Donovan; a beautiful little girl with him; and her dream job as the cops' reporter for the Bay Herald. But her success has been hard-won and has left her with debilitating paranoia. When a string of young co-eds starts to show up dead with suspicious Biblical verses left on their bodies--the same verses that the man she suspects kidnapped and murdered her sister twenty years ago had sent to her--she begins to question if the killer is trying to send her a message.
It is not until evil strikes Gabriella's own family that her worst fears are confirmed. As the clock begins to tick, every passing hour means the difference between life and death to those Gabriella loves...

If you've made it this far in my blatant self promotion post THANK YOU!