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Tuesday, August 24, 2010


The internets are all atwitter about the release of "Mockingjay," the third and final installment in the Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins. While I have yet to read any of the books (still waiting for my blasted Kindle...) I can't help but get excited at the anticipation surrounding the release.

And I wonder why that is...

What makes some books/trilogies/septologies into obsessions? What drives people to dress up as fictional characters or speak in made up languages?

Yes, the story has to be good/marketable and the writing has to be engaging, but for every Harry Potter there seem to be a dozen or more Artemis Fowl's and Charlie Bone's. There are scores of fantasy books and series that will never be turned into a multiple-Oscar winning trilogy like "Lord of the Rings." And "Twilight" copies still abound, without a fraction of the attention. Even the "Hunger Games Trilogy" doesn't seem to catch fire (pardon the pun) as easily as others.

I ask this question without being able to provide an answer. If I knew the secret, you'd better believe I'd be writing the next billion-dollar franchise instead of a blog post! I think it all comes down to hard work. Sure there is the necessary requirement of talent and a healthy bit of luck never hurts anyone. But persistence and tenacity must pay off in the long run, even if you never achieve over a million books in one printing.

I'll admit, I'm still obsessed with "Harry Potter." It was the reason I started writing (and I confess, the first book I ever wrote was a direct rip-off!). But I adore the series not only for the story, but for JK Rowling's story of her life. I just watched her the interview during the time that she was finishing up "The Deathly Hallows." It's inspiring, emotional and uplifting and I can't express how much I enjoy watching it.

And speaking of obsession, with the final Harry Potter movie coming up this fall ( summer?) I've decided to re-read the entire septology. It's as brilliant as ever and I can watch Rowling's progress and confidence grow as a writer with each installment. It's my life's ambition to write something as good as that series, not necessarily as well received, financially successful or as cult-inducing mind you, but just a work that in my mind is "as good as."

When that day arrives, I'll be sure to let you know!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Feelin' Lucky Friday!

And now..............champagne!

Nah, just contests. Here we go!

Flash fiction contest at Janet Reid's blog.
Prize: 101 Things I Learned in Film School and 101 Things I Learned in Business School
You've got until midnight tonight to submit!

More contests than you can possibly enter over at Adventures in Children's Publishing

And if you're more interested in submitting finished works, here is a list of deadlines:

For the literary types,
Glimmer Train's Short Story Award for New Writers
- Deadline: 8/31

For the, erm, cowboy types (?) The Moonlight Mesa Associates Cowboy Up Contest. Deadline: 9/1, pardner.

For the environmentally inclined, The Bear Deluxe Magazine presents the 2010 Doug Fir Fiction Award. Deadline: 9/8

Bartleby Snopes is running their 2nd Annual "Dialogue Only" writing contest. Deadline: 9/12

And I wouldn't want to leave the poets out: The Greensboro Review is taking submissions for the 2011 Robert Watson Literary Prize. Deadline: 9/15

Happy hunting!

Post Delayed Due to Beer

Yes, yes, I know. I was supposed to put a new entry up yesterday. Well, I had a good reason not to: I was drinking.

Not just drinking for drinking's sake thought! I attended an event at Pittsburgh's Toonseum called "Toons & Brews."

The toons were everywhere: cells from TV shows, hand-drawn renderings of beloved characters, signed comic strips with editorial comments and a run of episodes from Warner Bros classic Looney Tunes (which I could watch all friggin day).

The brews were provided by Pittsburgh's very own Church Brew Works. This brewpub is built within an old cathedral and cranks out some very tasty beer. On tap last night were their very tasty Brown Ale and a special seasonal called Ambrosia that was incredible. They also had their award winning IPA in bottles. (I'm also an amateur homebrewer for those who are keeping track/want to enroll me in a 12 step program)

The beer was provided to loosen up people's inhibitions. Why, you ask? Because we would all be drawing in front of each other. With permanent markers. (Yeah our instructor took away the trusty pencil and eraser that I depend so heavily upon)

Drawing and writing have a lot in common when it comes to embarrassing uncertainty. And I love both arts, I even want to write/ink my own comic book someday, or maybe even start a web comic. The real trick to both of them is to, in the immortal words of Allen Iverson:

Practice! People are born with different levels of talent, that's for sure. That much was evident from the room full of different interpretations of the instructor's drawing. My friend who accompanied me seemed to draw things as seen through the eyes of a meth addict.

But practice and persistence is what pays off in the end. Regrettably I stopped practicing my drawing years ago. I was decent at drawing from a stock image, but I got frustrated at my inability to draw the things I could visualize in my head. And I quit.

Though last night I did win two prizes (more out of pity than skill, and more because they amused the judges than anything else), the most important thing was the rekindling of my love of drawing. And, any time you do something slightly out of your comfort zone, especially something creative, it sorta opens up your mind a little more. Since I'm mired in my writerly revisions, taking a step outside to do some goofy drawings was exactly what I needed.

Now I'm refreshed and ready to dig back into editing. If you have a local cartoonist offering booze and drawing lessons, I'd highly recommend attending. If not, just crack a cold one and get that doodlepad out.


Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Punctuation Celebration: Pilcrow!

As I am currently knee-deep in red ink from my first revision of Blackwatch, I thought it would be prudent to recruit some help. I've got 60,000+ words to sort through, multiple characters that may or may not be essential to the story, not to mention some truly awful dialogue.

Every time I try to cut a character, they convince me that it's better to keep them in. Some of them guilt me into submission while others threaten me with bodily harm. I started out having total control over this manuscript, but now, well it's taken on a life of its own!

For my own safety, I've enlisted a troop of hardened characters, or 'marks' if you will. This crew has been around for centuries, helping authors sort through the jumble of misspelled words and hackneyed dialogue. They cut and bump and interject wherever they see a need.

I found the ringleader of my little gang while he was working as a bouncer at a shabby jazz club in New Orleans. The place was a mess. Some of the foulest words I've ever seen were sitting at the bar, doing shots of ink and graphite. A pair of parentheses kept trying to get on either side of a word, trying to lead him over to a dollar sign with gold teeth. This was the type of place where young words could earn their capital letters.

I watched as a pair of <'s tried to get in the club, though they were clearly not old enough. The bouncer turned them aside. An @ sign and an ampersand in the club tried to tell him that they were with them. Words were exchanged, asterisks were thrown and when the dust settled, only the bouncer remained standing.

"What's your name?" I asked him. He shoved the trouble-making words and characters out of the way, shifting the entire line that had formed outside.

"Pilcrow," he said deeply. He was top-heavy and only ever faced in the direction of those words that needed a nudge. He was unafraid to throw his weight around, knowing that he could move sentences, paragraphs, whole chapters if he had to. Woe betide the careless writer who did not properly format his page settings, lest the mighty Pilcrow shift the whole manuscript out of whack. Such a powerful character, I had yet to encounter.

"Well, Pilcrow," I says, "How'd you like to do some real editing done? Some red-work? Get out of this hell-hole of flash fiction and get into something with some substance."

It was an easy sell. Now Pilcrow is on my side and my characters have stopped their bickering. If they thought I was simply going to shift their appearances around, they're sorely mistaken. Pilcrow introduced me to some other characters he knows, some more ruthless than him.

Stay tuned next week to see who else has joined my Revisionist gang!


Tuesday, August 17, 2010


Who would you rather hang out with:
Clark Kent or Superman?
Peter Parker or Spider-Man?
Bruce Wayne or Batman?

With the exception of that last one, I'd always go with the superhuman. (A billionaire's party beats brooding in a bat-cave any day.) Why? They're just more fun! They get to do things that ordinary people don't, or can't. Even though each of them is fully capable of handling himself in a fight, his alter-ego/public identity is often as mild and vulnerable as the meekest of us. What does this have to do with books you ask?

Well, let me ask this:
Would you read a book by Stephenie Meyer that had nothing to do with vampires?
How about a Stephen King book about baseball?
Or a football story by John Grisham?
Maybe you'd read J.K. Rowling's next project even if it had nothing to do with Harry Potter?

My point is that most famous authors are known for a specific character or series or genre. Is it that they have no interest in writing different types of stories? Is it that the authors are most comfortable in that given style? Is it that the publishers/readers would refuse to step outside what they perceive is the author's identity?

One benefit an unpublished author (such as myself) has over the big names is that we can experiment. We can find what style and genre and length of story works for us. Someone who starts off writing literary poetry can end up cranking out kid's picture books or nonfiction how-to's, or vice versa.

The difficulty is in knowing when you've hit your stride. Was my first foray into writing, a YA fantasy similar to Harry Potter, the style I'll end up in? Was my second novel, an adult horror story, more my calling? Or will I find a home in YA sci-fi, as with my current project?

And in this day and age of e-reading and e-publishing, is it necessary to limit one's self to a particular series or genre or style? I appreciate Stephen King's novels, but I absolutely love his short story collections and The Green Mile series. I wasn't a fan of Meyer's "Twilight" series, but tried "The Host" just to see if it was better (it wasn't, in my opinion). I'd read anything ever written by Rowling, literally anything.

In other words, I'm still searching for my identity. But along the way, I'm enjoying the freedom of playing around in a variety of different worlds. Here, sea monsters are as real as abusive parents, time control is as possible and effortless as wireless communication and elves, orcs and dwarves party up right alongside aliens and cyborgs.

Is there really anything better than that?


Monday, August 9, 2010


I planned on setting up automatic posts for this week, but the weekend got a little crazy. I'll be out of town in the swamps of Loo'siana for the next few days. So as long as I don't end up gator-bait, I'll see you all next week!


Friday, August 6, 2010

Feelin' Lucky Friday!

Ashley over at "Books Obsessions" made my Friday a lot easier by posting a few book giveaways. Check it out!

And "Adventures in Children's Publishing" has a nice Contest & Giveaways section on this exhaustive wrap-up post.

Last, but certainly not least, is a massive query critique contest sponsored graciously by Joanne Volpe as part of WriteOnCon next week! Should be an amazing couple of days!

Good luck and have a great weekend!


Thursday, August 5, 2010

The Crazy-Filled Center of My Brain

People often ask me where I come up with my ideas, or how I have so many ideas, or what the hell is that crazy idea all about?

The truth is, I don't know. Sometimes it's just a spark from an environmental clue. A couple of posts ago I talked about an evening spent observing people at a mechanic's shop and letting those observations work their ways into a cohesive story. My current WIP was completely kickstarted by an ad for a watch that had no second, minute or hour hands. It just had a metal ball that rolled around a circular groove to tell time. From that simple advertisement, an entire parallel world was born, complete with characters that sprung out of my head like a Greek god.

Sometimes, like today, I just get odd thoughts. I was sitting in a meeting at work (and let me just say: the more boring the activity, the freer the creative mind!) and I got this sudden feeling. The feeling was "Fall" or "Autumn" if you prefer. I don't know any other way to put it. One minute we're discussing a production order and the next, my mind is full of footballs and raked piles of leaves and tailgates and crisp breezes and jack o'lanterns and earthy tones. No idea where it came from, but it was very pleasant.

I'm sure you've all had cravings and yearnings. They come out of nowhere! It could be chocolate or pickles, maybe it's that favorite movie you haven't seen in years or it's a friend you suddenly have to call. Cravings tend to be food related. Yearnings tend to be people related. (Am I missing any others?) So I thought, what could I call the feeling of Fall? Why, a Seasoning of course!

After I'd experienced my first ever "seasoning" (and once I stopped laughing at the name I'd given it) my brain rolled into full-ahead creative mode. Long story short, I ended up with a title of "Drive-By Seasonings," a story about a motorcycle-riding Grandma who shows up unannounced to salvage last minute culinary disasters. I pictured a Thanksgiving meltdown worthy of a National Lampoon spin-off movie, saved by a "Mrs. Doubtfire meets Gordon Ramsey" character.

Bizarre, right? And it'll probably never in a million years be written to completion. But I never know, so I write it down. It doesn't hurt to write down your craziest ideas. One of them might be the one to hit it big. Or, years later when I look back over my scattered pages of random story ideas/notes, I'll just laugh and wonder what the hell I was thinking!


Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Punctuation Celebration: Ze Umlaut!

So you've probably heard about or seen or maybe even read Stieg Larrson's "Millennium Trilogy." (It's definitely on my "to be read" list.) If you're familiar with it, then you've probably seen this fella around: ö

"Is that a surprised omg emoticon?" you ask. No! It's an example of today's Punctuation Celebration! Mr. Umlaut was kind enough to stop by the office and answer a few questions, with the assistance of his interpreter.
*The following should be read in a stereotypical Swedish-ish accent:

I know you're very busy with your world tour, but do you think you could answer a few questions?
Ya, that would be just fine.

Should I call you Herr Diaeresis or Trema or do you prefer something else?
Herr Diaresis is my father. I've tried to get away from that name all my life, sounds like an intestinal disorder. Just call me Umlaut.

OK Umlaut, so tell us a little bit about yourself?
Oh alright. Well I was born in Germany. I lived there for a while but eventually traveled all over the world. Everywhere I go people treat me just wonderfully. Except the Americans, they threw me out of their language and insist on pronouncing me with a terrible German accent.

Well I apologize for that.
It's quite alright. I've found a lovely home in Sweden. They try to work me into every single one of their words.

Speaking of Sweden, how is the Millennium Trilogy tour going?
Oh it's just wonderful. Mr. Larrson's books have been great for my popularity. Over 30 million copies sold! Just think, there are billions of little Umlauts just like me out there all over the world!

Umlaut, do you think I could have your autograph?
Of course, here ¨

Is that it? It looks like a vampire bite...
I know! It's wonderful, the Twilight kiddies just love it. I'm the most popular punctuation in the world!

Well I don't want to hold you up any longer. Mind if I ask a few closing questions?
Go right ahead.

What's your favorite brand of ice cream?
Häagen-Dazs, obviously.

Oh, of course. And your favorite band?
It's a toss up between Mötley Crüe and Spıal Tap.

How are things with your ex-wife, Schwa?
We don't get along very well. We're in a custody battle for the kids... [mumbles to interpreter] We have no comment on that at this time.

Well, thank you very much for visiting with us today. Good luck on the rest of your tour!
Adjö så länge.

*If you giggled at this, then check out Nora Ephron's "The Girl Who Fixed the Umlaut" in the New Yorker!


Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The People You Meet

Inspiration can strike anywhere. I'm amazed by people who have true writer's block, because I've never gone a day without experiencing some sort of inspiration. It could be passing a strange billboard or something that annoys me during the commute or just the way a person is dressed or talking that day. It's all around us!

So yesterday as I was sitting at my local Pep Boys for some unscheduled vehicular maintenance, I had little else to do but wait and be inspired. And boy was I!

Nothing spectacular happened, just those day to day events that people take for granted, the countless little interactions among people that no one pays attention to. The way the guy at the counter answered the phone and talked with customers, the way the mechanics talked to each other, the customers interacting with everyone else, pretty interesting stuff if you ask me.

Then, while I was getting some awful fake Mexican food at the Qdoba across the street, this random guy started talking to me. Turns out his car was in the shop too and he'd also come over to kill time and his taste buds. Guy's name was Terry. In the few minutes that I talked to him, I learned that he bought a Volvo (the one that was in the shop) after a car accident wrecked his other vehicle, that the Volvo had 220,000 miles on it, that he served in Vietnam for 2 yrs teaching soldiers who couldn't read, which got him interested in education. So Terry did his undergrad at Penn St and his grad work at Pitt. Then he worked at a prison in Ohio and started an accredited program for inmates there. Then he took up pottery and ended up finding work doing terra cotta restoration for buildings in Pittsburgh. (This is why I remember him as Terry "Potter" or the Terry cotta warrior...)

You can probably tell that Terry was a talker and was really interested in telling his story (not so much listening to mine. And he was probably trying to pick me up, which failed for a vast number of reasons.)

Point is, the night would have been far less interesting without these interactions, especially the conversation with Terry. Last night's events may find their way into a short piece of fiction, possibly submitted by myself to Glimmer Train's upcoming round. Hopefully they'll find Terra Cotta Terry as interesting as I did!


Monday, August 2, 2010

Urgent Message from Author Erica Orloff

Came across this post on "In Search of Giants" and thought it needed immediate re-posting. If I'm lucky enough to place in the Clarity of Night contest, I'll be donating the prize to the cause. If not, I'll find another way!



Adventures in Children's Publishing has the usual weekly wrap-up of writerly goodies.

Pimp My Novel has an extra special MONTHLY review, featuring July, the summeriest of months.

And Nathan Bransford's usual weekly summary. Lots of exciting e-pub/e-book/e-reader/e-verything news lately. Plus a second helping of Jane Austen's Fight Club, even though I'm not supposed to talk about it...

Finally, we're only about a week out from WriteOnCon so get familiar!