Monday, June 29, 2009

Regina Spektor - Laughing With

5 Books Zombie Fans Must Read

World War Z
by Max Brooks
I'm starting off with Brooks' World War Z because this book is more than just a zombie novel. It's one of the finest pieces of fiction published in the last decade or so. Really. I swear. I'm not just saying that because I like zombie books. World War Z is literature. The basis of the book is that it's a collection of stories told by survivors of a great war against the zombies. It reads real, very real. Sometimes too real. Yes, there's horror, and there's some of the humor often associated with Max Brooks (he is the son of actor/director Mel Brooks, after all), but there's also a nice touch of pathos here. The stories in World War Z aren't really about the zombies. They're about us, the humans. And therein lies the strength of this fine piece of fiction.

Book of the Dead
edited by John Skipp and Craig Spector
The oldest book listed here, first published in 1989, it's also one of the best. It's a collection of short stories about zombies, and there is some fine writing here. My personal favorite short story is probably "Like Pavlov's Dog" by Steven R. Boyett, but there's a little something here for all zombie and horror fans, including a short story by Stephen King that still gives me goosebumps just thinking about it. Truly, you need to read this if you're into zombies.

City of the Dead
by Brian Keene
Brian Keene's name has pretty much become synonymous with zombie fiction in horror circles. He's quite well known for his novels about the walking dead. Of the lot he's written, City of the Dead is my favorite. It's about a group of humans who have found protection of sorts in a fortified skyscraper, but hundreds of thousands of walking dead outside the building are trying to break in. And these zombies aren't slow, nor are they stupid.

by Stephen King
Cell is the closest King has come to a traditional zombie novel, though his monsters aren't exactly zombies, at least not the traditional brainless, soulless zombies. Still, they're close enough you couldn't tell the difference once you were being chomped upon. As King often does, he brings his own uniqueness to this tale, even bringing up possible terrorism which could have caused his zombie-like uprising. King fans will like this book. Zombie fans will find plenty to enjoy, too.

Monster Planet
by David Wellington
Much like author Brian Keene, David Wellington has become known as a zombie writer. He's best known for his "Monster" trilogy of books, Monster Island, Monster Nation, and the novel mentioned here, Monster Planet. This book is my favorite. Traditionalists might not enjoy this book because the fictional world Wellington has created is filled with more undead than just zombies, like mummies and even the ever-powerful liches, but there's still plenty of good reading here. Also like Keene's books, Wellington's novels tend to focus quite a bit on action and a little less on the moodiness of more conservative horror.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Dark Side of Io screenplay for sale

If you like horror and science fiction mixed, I've got something for you.

In a bit of self-publishing, I've uploaded my screenplay "Dark Side of Io" onto Amazon. The screenplay is now available for the Kindle at a price of only $1.00. And in case you're wondering, yes, my screenplay "Dark Side of Io" is based upon my short story of the same name (which also happens to be for sale in my collection called "Sever" on the Kindle).

Saturday, June 27, 2009

5 Good books about genre writing, by actual authors

How to Write Action/Adventure Novels
by Michael Newton
Michael Newton is best known for his action writing in the Executioner series of books and his non-fiction writings about serial killers. With more than 200 titles to his name, he's an author you need to listen to when he offers advice. This particular book, How to Write Action/Adventure Novels, comes from the late 1980s, but most of it is still relevant today. Also, there's plenty of advice to be found here that is applicable to crime novels, thriller books and just about any genre of fiction which could include law enforcement, spies, military, etc.

On Writing Romance
by Leigh Michaels
Leigh Michaels is a romance author who has had published more than 80 books, so you might want to pay attention to her advice if you want to break into that market. And if you want to go beyond what this book has to offer, Michaels offers an online class where you can learn even more.

The Writer's Guide to Everyday Life in the Wild West: From 1840-1900
by Candy Moulton
Whether you're interested in writing strictly westerns, or you just want to write other types of tales featured during that time period, this is the book for you. Not only does Moulton cover the basics for gunfighters and outlaws and lawmen, but she goes far beyond these stereotypes of the Old West and gets into the daily lives of the people. What kind of buggies and wagons were available? What about clothes? Food? All this and more can be found in this guide.

Sometimes the Magic Works: Lessons from a Writing Life
by Terry Brooks
If you are interested in writing fantasy, you could do much worse than listening to Terry Brooks, who has been a published novelists in the field for more than 30 years. His biggest popularity has been in his series of Shannara novels and Landover novels. In this non-fiction book, Brooks writes about what has worked for himself over the years, and he talks some about the mindset of a writer. At least his mindset. And some of it will likely sound familiar. Especially the parts about your fictional characters sometimes seeming more real than the real people you meet every day.

On Writing
by Stephen King
Arguably the most successful novelist of all time, and definitely the most successful horror writer of all time, Stephen King is an author with tips for beginning writers that could seem to drip gold. Here King talks about what it takes to become a professional novelist, and he goes into quite a bit about his personal life, how it shaped him into the writer he is today. Fans or horror, writing and King himself shouldn't miss this book.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Other People Can't Teach You to Write

It's true. Other people can't teach you to write. Even the greatest writers in the world can't teach you to write. Shakespeare? No. Stephen King? Still, no.

They can offer advice. They can let you know what works for them. But the truth is, what works for them might not work for you.

For example, about six years ago, I broke through my writer's block by studying screenwriting. Basically, the formatting of screenwriting helped me to formulate story plots in mind mind, which helped me to get over fears of writing and publishing, etc. This won't work for everyone. To other people, screenwriting might look like more trouble than it's worth, or it just might not appeal to them for other reasons. For me, it was a huge aid.

There are plenty of how-to and self-help books out there about writing, many of them quite excellent. But the truth of the matter is, you can only become a good writer by writing. And reading, that helps, too.

Yes, it all falls on your own shoulders. Each writer is different, works in different ways and has different mindsets. Some writers can pump out 10,000 words a day and have a novel finished in a week or two. Other writers can only creep along at a hundred or so words a day, taking a year or five to finish a book. Writers are just different, despite some similarities in how we might work or write or think.

This doesn't have to mean you're completely on your own. Talking with other writers, or even joining a critique group, can help to improve your writing by giving you others' opinions about your work. Just remember that it's your writing. You're the one in charge. Advice from others can be helpful, but don't let it overrule your own visions. But don't be stubborn, either. If something doesn't work and a hundred others tell you it doesn't work, you need to seriously consider changing it. At least if you're hoping for publication.

Keep in mind, you can read a thousand books about writing, but you'll never improve your skills (and your marketability) until you actually do some writing. If you're honest with yourself, you'll be able to tell when your skills are improving. Just don't be in such a hurry. It takes time, longer for some than others.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

5 Solid Books on Screenwriting

So, you want to make it big in Hollywood as a screenwriter? No promises, but these five books could help you get on your way.

Syd Field
This was the first book I read on screenwriting, and I'm glad of it. This book breaks down the basics, teaching story structure and formatting for beginnings. This is a great book to start with if you want to learn or know more about screenwriting. The author, Syd Field, is well known within the Hollywood system as a screenwriting guru, probably the best known of any of the screenwriting gurus since he been around for years.

The Complete Idiot's Guide to Screenwriting
Skip Press
This is probably my favorite book about screenwriting, but I tend to like the Idiot's Guide books and Skip Press has a very engaging and entertaining way of writing. This book goes over the basics again, and in a simple format so that anyone can understand. The author also gives plenty of tips and strategies on not only how to write your screenplay, but on how to get it into the hands of a producer or production company. Well worth the money you pay for the book and the time it takes to read it. I highly recommend.

Lew Hunter's Screenwriting 434
Lew Hunter
Next to Syd Field, Lew Hunter is the next best-known screenwriting guru, and it shows here. This book goes beyond the basics, and covers tactics by some of the more successful screenwriters. Lew Hunter also offers several screenwriting workshops, so check out his Web site if you are interested. There's a lot to learn from this man.

Secrets of Film Writing
Tom Lazarus
As of this writing, Tom Lazarus has had nine of his screenplays made into movies. I think that, and his other experiences in film and television, more than qualify him as someone who can offer strong advice about writing screenplays. This book was excellent at giving me a new and more modern way to look at screenwriting beyond the basics.

How Not to Write a Screenplay
by Denny Martin Flinn

This author passed away in 2007, but he left behind a solid book that was backed up by his experience as a writer, director, dancer and actor. Flinn was quite well known for his Broadway work and even Off-Broadway, and he had some ties to the Star Trek crowd since he was a screenwriter for the movie "Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country." This particular book, as the title suggests, tells you what not to do when writing a screenplay. Lots of basic, but solid, information here.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Is Reading Dying?

Is reading dying or dead? It would seem so. Every few months there's an article online or in the newspapers about how people don't read nearly as much as they used to, or that fewer and fewer people pick up a book. But I'd argue otherwise. I think more people are reading than ever before.


Reading habits have changed, especially over the last dozen or so years. Readers might not be turning to newspapers, magazines, books and other traditional printed publications as much as they used to, but I think there has been a gigantic growth in reading online. Another growing reading population are the readers who use independent reading devices, such as the Kindle from Amazon and other such devices that will be hitting the stores soon.

Of course one could argue all this reading online isn't the same. Readers aren't getting to read as good a material as they did before. Readers are reading a lot of garbage. Readers aren't learning or reading proper language when in chat rooms or texting. Maybe. Maybe all that is true, but people are still reading. And as long as they're reading, they're going to need writers.

If you're a writer, like myself, you have one big thing to worry about: Competition. Yes, there are a lot more people writing nowadays, and trying to become professionals at it. The thing to remember is that the good writing will rise to the top, will flourish. Readers will want to read the good stuff. So, get to cracking, if you're a writer. You need to work on your skills.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

No. 34 - Lisey's Story

by Stephen King

Started: June 23
Finished: July 5

Notes: Continuing my recent theme of horror novels, I thought I'd turn to the master of the genre.

Mini review: I don't think I've ever felt this way about a King novel, but I was really glad to be finished with this one. The payoff is pretty good in the end, but good God, getting there takes forever. Really, a good hundred, if not two hundred, pages of this could have been cut away and I don't think I would have missed it a bit. Still, it's King, so it wasn't total garbage. Just long-winded to the point of sometimes boredom and oftentimes frustration; I kept wanting the story to move along, and instead it would get caught up in reminiscences or back story.

10 Reasons There Ought to be a Constitutional Amendment Banning Flip Flops

Health reasons: Feet spread disease. I read it somewhere so it's got to be true. Probably hoof and mouth disease or something to do with fungus. Your feet are a danger to everyone around you. And they can't be safe for your ankles, either.

Stank: Feet stink. It's that simple. No one wants to smell your nasty old feet. Get some shoes on, for crying out loud. And socks.

The gross-out factor: Guess what else? No one wants to look at your ugly old feet, either. If God meant for us to look at each other's feet, he would have put them higher on the body so we could all see them without looking down. Maybe underneath the chin or someplace.

Etiquette: Wearing flip flops, at least in public, is just bad manners. It shows one's lack of respect for fellow human beings. It shouts to the world, "Hey, look at my big, nasty-looking feet!"

Religious reasons: Flip flops are not mentioned in the Bible. Nor are they in the Koran or any other holy books recorded throughout all of history. Sure, sandals are mentioned, but sandals aren't exactly the same thing as flip flops. Besides, people back in Biblical times didn't know any better, and they probably didn't have any other choices, at least in warmer climates. So, since flip flops aren't in the Bible, God must not like flip flops. It should've been the 11th Commandment: Thou Shalt Not Wear Flip Flops.

Economic development: Getting rid of flip flops would boost the economy. How? Because people would have to buy real shoes, not those plastic pieces of crap they get from the $5 bin at Wal-Mart.

Foreign relations: The United States would get along better with the rest of the world if there were no more flip flops. Because I said so.

Domestic relations: Americans would get along better with one another, too, if there were no more flip flops. The reason for this is that we wouldn't have to look at so many ugly, smelly feet. That would put all of us in a better mood.

National security: Flip flops are a threat to the country. To all countries. They ... uh, well I don't know what they do, but they're dangerous! They can kill! Remember President Bush had a shoe thrown at him? What if that had been a deadly flip flop? One shudders to think of it.

Education: If kids and college students weren't allowed to wear flip flops, then they would retain more of what they learn in school. How, one might ask? Because the knowledge they pick up in the classroom would no longer drain out the bottom of their feet. Proper shoes would help to hold in all that information.

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Library is Still a Magical Place

If you were a student before or during the early days of the Internet Age, you probably spent at least a little time in a library. Maybe you spent a lot of time in a library. The library was the place to go for sources on finishing your book reports, and for getting free books or movies or music. Sometimes the library was just a place to go to hang out.

About a week ago, I got my first library card in more than twenty years. I had been into libraries plenty of times during that time period, often to check something in the reference section or to use the computers or for a dozen other tasks that did not include checking out a book. As a writer and a once-upon-a-time newspaper journalist, I received tons and tons of books for free. I also live within walking distance of 5 used book stores. So, I never really felt the need to have a library card.

But I live only about a block from my city's main library. I got to thinking, it's silly, me being a writer, only yards away from the library, and I don't have a library card. So I walked down last week and got a library card.

Then I spent half the day walking up and down the five floors that make up the library. I was blown away. I had forgotten what it was like to roam through literally millions and millions of shelved books. It was a nice feeling, almost like coming home.

There's something about libraries, especially big and older libraries. It's like stepping back in time with a time machine. It's not just a sense that you can read about history, but a feeling that you are part of a living history that all these printed books has kept alive. But in a secret kind of way. Just sitting there all those years waiting for you to come along and discover them. It's difficult to explain, and I'm not sure a younger person would understand, at least those who aren't readers. Maybe even older folks who aren't regular readers wouldn't understand.

Since that day I got my new library card, I've been back every single day. I've checked out movies and tons and tons of books. More books than I have time to read (and I've still got a short stack of my own books to read). Still, the books I checked out are mine for at least a month. I think I can get through a few of them in that time.

Then what?

Another trip to the library, of course.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

10 Web Sites for Science Fiction Writers

Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, Inc.:
The SFWA is an organization for writers of science fiction and fantasy to band together. The group does a lot of different things, from simply connecting writers to helping with legal causes and more, but you don't have to be a member to use the Web site. And this Web site holds tons of valuable information, advice and links for writers, especially beginning writers. If you are just starting out and want to know more, you need to check out this site.
This Web site has tons of book and movie reviews, as well as author pages, contests and some of the best forums around. If you make it to the forums, tell them Darkbow sent you.

Clarion Writer's Workshop at UC San Diego:
Clarion is the oldest workshops of its kind, a science fiction and fantasy writer's workshop, and its not easy to get into. Find all the criteria about applying for the next workshop at this site. And there are a few other helpful links as well.
Just because you're a writer doesn't mean you don't need to pay attention to and what's appearing on their Web site and the Sci-Fi Channel on television. There could be good movies and shows there, and they can give you lots of story ideas. Also, this is a cool Web site for science fiction news and gaming links.

World Science Fiction Society:
Find out when and where the next World Science Fiction Convention is going to be held. You can also find out plenty of information about past conventions and how to join this group.

Science Fiction Book Club:
This club's site can keep you updated on what's new in the bookstores, as well as offer a look back at older books. Become a member and you can save money when you order books from them.
You're a writer, so you want to know where to sell your stories, right? This is one of the best Web sites you can go to. There are lists and lists and lists of magazines and book publishers and e-zines and more where you can sell your stories. The listings are broken down into book publishers, adult publishers, humor publishers, pro-paying publishers, paying publishers and publishers who don't pay (but still give you an opportunity to share your work with others).

Writing Science Fiction and Fantasy:
This site might be a little basic for the advanced writer, but it's a great place for newbies to get a start. Jeffrey A. Carver's site is geared toward young writers, those still in school, but all ages can find opportunities here. Carver even offers a free online writing class.

SFF Net:
You'll find tons of people who are interested in science fiction here with blogs and other Web pages. Many of the people are professionals, writers and editors and publishers, while some are hardcore fans or have other interests in science fiction and fantasy and horror. There are also a good number of links to different newsgroups about speculative fiction.

The Hugo Awards:
This is the big daddy of science fiction writing awards. If you win one of these babies, your writing career is pretty much set. This site has information about the award and how you could win it, and there's plenty of other links, too.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

10 People at the Grocery Store Who Make Me Hate

You've seen them. Now here's a list of the worst of them.

The soccer mom on her cell phone
You're busy. You have to take little Jessie to his game this afternoon. Then you have a hair appointment. And you can't meet up with your BFF Katie tonight because the hubbie is coming home early from work to take you and the kids out to Pizza Hut. How do I know all this? Because you've done nothing but walk around the store for the last half hour with that darn cell phone glued to your ear, and you've made sure everybody and their brother has heard every word of your conversation. If you're so busy, hang up the phone and get done with your shopping. And get a clue.

Anyone blocking up the aisles
Maybe it's the "cute" couple that has decided each of them needs their own separate cart because it's adorable. Or maybe it's the family that has decided to bring all 20 of their kids to the store with them. And the kids are lined up across every, single aisle. And they have Popsicle stains on their shirts and slobber running down their noises. Whatever or whoever you are, you're taking up too much space. To live. Okay, maybe that's harsh. But it doesn't feel like it right now when you've decided you own Aisle 7 and no one else can get to the toilet paper because you've decided to camp there.

Anyone who spends more than 5 seconds staring at a particular item
This is related to the one before. Know what you want before you get to the store. Pick it up off the shelf. Drop it in your cart. Then move onto the next item. You don't need to spend all day trying to make up your mind whether you want the light red kidney beans or the dark red kidney beans. They're friggin' kidney beans. Pick one. Move on. Other people need kidney beans, too. Hmm. Wonder which ones to pick?

The two old ladies catching up on their gossip
I don't need to know about your grand kids. And I definitely don't need you two to tell each other every little personal story about your families going back to the Truman administration. Why? Because while catching up, you two have parked your carts in the middle of the aisle so no one else can get around you. Move it to the sides of the store. Maybe the deli area. At least you'd be out of the rest of everyone else's way.

The family buying $400 worth of groceries at 3 a.m.
I've just got off work. I only stopped in to pick up something for a very late dinner and maybe a 2 liter of Diet Coke for the wife. There's no one else in the store but you idiots and me. And despite the fact I'm only getting two items and you're getting 6,000 items spilled over into ten carts, you will still get to the register before me. And I'll have to wait. And wait. And wait. By the time you're checked out, the sun is up and it's almost time for me to go back to work. I know you work nights, too, but do your major shopping during the day when the store has more than one lane open. And no, I won't say "please."

The chatty checkout clerk
I don't know you. You don't know me. I don't want to know about your ex-boyfriend and how he got arrested for beating up your mother's sister's cousin's fiance. I don't need to know what you think about the state of the economy, the president, the war in whatever country we're in war at right now. I just want you to ring me up and let me be on the way. You don't have to be entirely silent. I understand common courtesy, but I'm not here for a chat room.

The disabled person in the electric cart who thinks they own the store
I get it. Really, I do. I got out of the hospital a few years ago and had to use one of those carts myself for a couple of months. But that didn't give me the right to bump into everybody then look at them as if they're being insensitive. You're in a gigantic cart running down aisles not built for such a wide vehicle. Get used to it. Other people have their own troubles. No one really gives a damn that your leg is broken or whatever. You have no excuse to be rude to those of us able to walk at the moment.

Anyone who flies around corners with their shopping cart
Other people are using the store, too. Take it easy. Take it slow. Look where you're going. This isn't the Indy Shopaholic 500. Bump me one more time and I might make you wear that bowl of salad in the bottom of your cart.

The 40 construction workers who all decide to eat from the deli at the same time
I realize you guys are busy and you're probably tired. But each and every one of you has a cell phone strapped to your belt. Couldn't just one of you, maybe even a foreman, have called ahead and had the order ready to go? No? Okay. Well, I guess I'll just stand here until the end of your shift so I can finally get that half-pound of roasted turkey I wanted.

The person who grabs a cart then comes to a dead stop right in front of the store entrance
I know you need to get out your grocery list. I know you need to glance around to see which aisle has the canned yams. I also know you're an idiot. There are other people behind you. We are at the store for a reason. To get in. To buy stuff. And to talk on the cell phone and chat with our old lady neighbor from next door who we see all the time anyway. Move it!

Friday, June 19, 2009

The Importance of Editing Your Writing

You've spent hours and hours on a story or article. Maybe you've even spent months or years working on a book. Congratulate yourself. You've accomplished something important. But the work isn't over. In fact, in many ways, the hardest work is just beginning.

Now it's time for editing and rewriting.

"But why?" you moan. "Why do I have to edit? I liked the way it was the first time."

Okay, maybe you did. But that doesn't mean you got everything write. There could be some words spelled incorrectly. You might accidentally used a wrong verb tense. Or maybe your fingers just got a little sloppy and you used "your" when you meant to use "you're."

It happens. To all of us. To every single writer. Mistakes are made.

But that's why you edit, to clean up your copy.

And why is editing important, one might ask?

Well, it depends upon why you are writing. Are you writing for practice, because you want to become a better writer? Are you writing in hopes of publication? Are you writing because you have to turn in a report to your teacher or your boss?

If so, you need your copy to be clean and precise. Not only will editors and publishers expect it, but clean copy goes a long way towards making them believe you are someone professional with whom they can work. Even if an editor decides not to use a story you are trying to sell him or her right now, if you had a well-edited story, they might remember that for the future and you could have an easier time selling them something later on.

Also, you want your readers to take you seriously. If something you've written is full of mistakes, the readers are going to go away thinking you're unprofessional and you don't know what you're doing. Worse, they might go away downright angry and think of you as uneducated or as an idiot. Either way, your readers aren't going to go away happy. And if your readers aren't happy, then they're probably going to pass on reading anything else from you in the future.

Seemingly little things like grammar and spelling and punctuation are important. Your readers will notice when something is incorrect. Maybe not every reader will notice something wrong, but enough of them will.

Still think editing isn't important? Well, let me ask you something. How often have you been reading along in a nice novel or newspaper article, then suddenly you notice a mistake. What happens? Some of us might get angry and promise to never read from that publication or writer again. Others of us will just shake our heads and go on. But either way, you as a reader are taken out of the context of the writing. In fiction especially, this is death; you don't want your readers transported to another world or time, then suddenly have them yanked back to reality because they found something wrong.

Good editing and rewriting helps make your writing stronger. But possibly more importantly, it will keep your editors and readers happy. And that's what most of us want, because that will mean they will want to read more stuff from us.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Improve Your Writing by Forgetting About It

You've just finished writing your book or article or poem or whathaveyou. You're ready to plunge into editing and rewriting.

But hold on a second. Unless you're on a tight deadline, it's probably best to set aside your recent writing project for a while. Why? So you can come to the words on the page with fresh eyes.

After you've written a piece, you're still too close to it. You still love every little phrase. You still like your odd use of a certain word. Maybe you even love those four semi-colons you used in once sentence. But given some time, you can come fresh to a piece of writing. You'll have some perspective. You might even be surprised how something you loved a month ago now sounds awkward to your reading ear.

For one thing, after some time and experience, you should be a better writer. Even if just a little. So that can help you look at something you wrote a while back and go, "Argh! That's awful! Here's how I'd fix this and that!" But it's too late if you've already sent it to an editor or worse, it's already been published.

It's true you could work on a piece of writing forever, so eventually you will have to say "enough is enough" and finish.

How much time should you wait after you've finished writing? Different writers will make different suggestions. That being said, the longer the project, the more time you should set it aside. Written a short story? Maybe set it aside for a week, at least a few days. A novel? Maybe wait a month.

It's easier said then done, but a little time can help your writing go a long way. The enemies here are impatience and a loss of excitement. All of us are usually excited while we're writing a particular piece, but that excitement can wane once we've finished that first draft. But it doesn't have to be that way. Remember, you want your writing to be better. It needs to be better. Especially if other people are going to see it.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Fiction Writers Need to Know Their Weapons

Weapons seem to show up a lot in fiction. Of course weapons are common in westerns, crime fiction and often in fantasy and science fiction, but even if you're writing romance, there's often a sword or a knife or a gun that shows up somewhere along the lines.

When you are writing about a weapon, you need to know what you're talking about. I'm not suggesting you have to go out and buy the weapon and practice with it for weeks and weeks (though that's not a bad idea), but you should at least have some general knowledge of the weapon. And if you can have some practical experience, all the better.

See, if you don't know what you're writing when it comes to weapons, there will be plenty of readers who do. And when you make a mistake, those readers won't be afraid to point it out in e-mails to you or worse, in reviews.

Of course you can keep your descriptions and uses of weapons in your fiction to a minimum. That helps if you don't know what you're doing. Sure, you can call a sword a sword and a handgun a handgun. Or a rifle a rifle or a shotgun a shotgun. But even then, do you know the differences between a rifle and a shotgun? Many people do, but not everyone. You need to. For example, a shooter is not going to be able to hit a target 500 yards away with a shotgun. Why not? You need to find that out.

Do you know the differences between a revolver and a pistol? If the answer is "no," then you probably shouldn't be writing with a pistol or revolver involved. Why? Pistols and revolvers work mechanically in quite different ways, though I'm not going to get all technical in the limited space here; at the least you need to do a little investigating online. But I'd suggest you need to do more than that. If you're the type of person who doesn't want to be around firearms, maybe you are even afraid of the things, you could talk to a law enforcement officer or maybe go to a gun club or gun shop and talk to some folks there. Don't worry. Gun people always like to talk guns.

There are also issues of history to be considered. When is your story taking place? And where? Semi-automatic pistols weren't around in the Old West, at least not until the very end when the West was becoming quite tame, and even then the pistols often didn't work as well as the ones of even a few years later.

Or maybe you're writing a fantasy story, and you're thinking none of this matters because your world is filled with magic. Well, let's say your hero or heroine wields a sword. Do they do so one-handed or two? Oh, you don't think it makes a difference? Really? Have you ever tried to lift an eight-pound sword with one hand? And don't think that just because it's eight pounds (about the weight of a light bowling ball) that it won't be heavy. All that weight isn't packed into a small space (like the bowling ball), but is spread out over this really long hunk of metal that can be quite sharp. And then there's the question of how does your character carry around that big sword all day. On his or her back? At the hip? Believe me, it gets tiring carrying around a sword all day, especially if you're not in shape. And I'm not even going to go into wearing armor. Also, don't fool yourself that a smaller sword will be easier to deal with; different swords have different strengths and weaknesses, and often different uses depending upon the age of the society where the sword exists. For example, different types of swords were used and were needed in ages where heavy armor was more the norm on battlefields than in cities of later ages where gentlemen carried a blade but there was no armor.

I'll repeat, you don't have to be an expert. All that research would take away from your writing time. But you don't want to look a fool to your readers. If your stories included weapons, know what those weapons can do and how they work and how they were used. Your readers will know. And so should you.

SEVER: Five tales of horror

In my ongoing experimentation with Kindle publishing, a small collection of mine of five horror short stories, SEVER, is now available for only 80 cents for the Kindle from Amazon.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

No. 33 - Monster Planet

by David Wellington

Started: June 16
Finished: June 23

Notes: My recent readings have gotten me in the mood for some horror, so what better than a zombie novel? This one is the final book in a zombie trilogy, but it doesn't bother me that I haven't read the first two books. My understanding is each book somewhat stands on its own, and I've read one other book by this author and it was pretty decent.

Mini review: This one was kind of hit and miss for me. There were parts I enjoyed quite a bit, then others not so much. This wasn't so much a zombie novel (though there are plenty of zombies around) but a novel about more powerful undead and the power games they play against one another. Not bad, but I prefer my zombies mindless without some kind of big, bad other behind everything they do. Just me. Still, I've read a couple of this author's books now and would be interested to read more. Lots and lots of action here.

No. 32 - Serial

by Jack Kilborn and Blake Crouch

Started: June 16
Finished: June 16

Notes: This is a first for me. I'm actually going to read an e-book. This book has been quite hot on Amazon of late, leading the Kindle sales much of the last few weeks. It helps that this book is free, but the publishing companies have been pushing it I've heard, and Jack Kilborn is a pretty good writer, though I can't yet vouch for Blake Crouch because I'm not familiar with him. Anyway, I've download a free version of this book, and you can too. Serial is also available for free from the authors' Web sites. If you like horror, this short e-book could be for you. I know I'm giving it a try.

Mini review: What happens when a serial killer hitcher gets picked up by a serial killer driver? Find out the answer in this book. Fans of splatterpunk will love this short book! The writing is solid, the two authors having worked well together. Readers who don't like a little red stuff in their reading should shy away, but horror fans will enjoy. It was a blast to read. Quick and fun. I've read Kilborn's stuff before, and will again, but now I'll also have to check out more work by Blake Crouch.

What's It Take to Become a Pro Writer? Perseverance

Writing is tough work. No, it's not laying bricks or breaking broncs, but in its own way, writing is even harder as a profession. At least mentally. There are a lot distractions. There are the fears every writer seems to have, fears of success, or turning out something good, of not succeeding. Writing can be emotionally draining, and it takes time to write and to think of what to write and how to write and a million other things.

Writing also has its own rewards, often emotional. Beyond that, writing can also have monetary rewards, if you are one of the lucky few who can making a living at this gig.

Breaking into writing as a full-time job is no easy task. It generally takes time to become a decent enough writer that people will pay you for your skills and material. How long? It's different for each person. But even if it takes four or five years, is that really too much to ask? To earn a bachelor's degree in college can take just as long, and a master's degree can take even longer. So why shouldn't it take a while to become a quality, skilled writer? It should. And it does.

A lot of people think they can be a professional writer. It's easy. You just sit down and write. Right? Oh, how little they know.

One of the most important factors for becoming a professional writer is perseverance. Yes, you need to know your basic tools such as grammar and spelling, etc. But you also need to be able to push ahead no matter what the odds. A lot of potential pro writers never make it because they give up too soon. Sometimes they give up just on the verge of making it. Sometimes they give up early on once they see how much work writing truly entails.

To succeed, you have to be able to hang tough during the bad times, when you can't sell any of your stories or articles and when nothing you're writing seems to be any good. There are good days and bad days, of course, but it can be worth it if you can press ahead through those bad days.

Most importantly, you have to be truthful with yourself. Is your writing any good? If not, why not? What can you do to improve your writing? Can you improve your writing? I'm here to tell you that yes, you can improve your writing, though it may take time and study and reading and tons of writing. Even the greatest of writers weren't great when they first began writing. And remember that all pro writers polish, edit and rewrite their own work before sending it off to an editor or publisher.

So, you can succeed as a professional writer. It just takes will.

Never give up!

Monday, June 15, 2009

First "Preludes" customer review on Amazon

My collection of four short stories, Preludes, received its first customer review on Amazon. Only 3 out of 5 stars, but the reviewer had some very nice things to say about the product overall and particularly two of the stories.
Yeah, I could always ask for more, but I felt pretty good about it.

Sunday, June 14, 2009


That's right. Today is my birthday. At 7:27 p.m. EST, I hit the big 4-0. It some ways I feel ancient. In others, I still feel like a teen.

Geez. I wonder what the next 40 years will be like?

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Dealing with Negative Reviews as an Author

If you are a short story writer or a novelist, not everyone is going to appreciate your work. In fact, some folks might downright hate it. And a lot of them are very vocal, especially online. They might right reviews on Amazon, or they might write reviews for other Web sites having to do with books, publishing, writing, etc.

Some of the reviews are going to make you angry. Why couldn't that idiot see the genius of what you were doing? Some reviews might make you sad. Why did that reviewer have to be a meany and hurt your feelings when he or she doesn't even know you?

It happens. The best advice I can give you is to get over it. Everyone has their opinions, and not all of them are going to match with yours.

If you're overly touchy about your writing, don't even bother reading the reviews. Just stay away from them. If you can hack it, then go ahead and read the reviews, take any positive criticism you can find, remember to put it to work in the future if you can and move on.

That's the best thing you can do. Sulking about reviews isn't going to help get your next story written. Crying over reviews is only going to hurt and stilt your potential.

Just remember, human beings often have a capacity to focus on the negative. For every bad review you may receive, there were probably 20 people who liked your story or book just fine, but they didn't comment. It might seem unfair, but it's often how life works.

And remember you can help out others by leaving positive reviews for books and stories you've read. What goes around comes around, the old saying goes, and maybe a little of that will come back to you.

Friday, June 12, 2009

If You Want to be a Good Writer, You Need to Read

How can you ever hope to be a good writer if you don't read? You can't. Reading is a key element in becoming a solid writer. Reading can help to teach you basics such as grammar, spelling, punctuation and more. Reading can also show you what works and what doesn't.

Let's say you want to write romance novels. Then it's obvious you need to read romance novels, and not just one or two, and not just older novels from a hundred years ago. If you want to be a selling, published romance novelists, you need to be familiar with what is out there in today's market. That doesn't mean you should copy or emulate the styles of other writers, but by being aware of what publishers are looking for, you are better able to judge to which publisher you submit your own works. This will also help you to know what the readers want, and that's what's really important to selling your novels. You don't have to go out and buy a hundred or more romance novels to become familiar with the genre and what's available today, but it wouldn't hurt.

The same can be said for non-fiction writing. If you want to write and sell an article to a magazine, then you need to read that magazine on at least a semi-regular basis. For example, if a magazine just ran a story about how beagles make great house pets, the editor probably isn't looking for a similar story, so you don't want to submit your own beagle story to him or her. Unless, of course, it's a magazine with a particular focus on beagles. Though you might not know that if you're not familiar with the magazine.

Also, you should read outside your safety zone. You should read magazines and books you wouldn't normally pick up for your own pleasure. Sound crazy? It's not. It's learning, it's stretching your boundaries. You'd be surprised at how many unique ideas you can gain from reading unfamiliar material. Let's say you're wanting to write a science fiction novel, but you feel like everything's already been done in the genre. Then you're standing in line at the grocery store and you spy a tabloid magazine. Maybe you'd never touch a tabloid. But for the sake of argument, let's say you do this time. Inside the tabloid you find a story about movie stars being hounded by photographers. What's this got to do with science fiction? Well, with technology increasing all the time, what's the future going to be like for famous people? Will they be hounded by future photographers with miniature cameras that can be hidden anywhere? Will there be near-invisible cameras? Will the photographers be able to use small robot airplanes, similar to the U.S. Army's current drone planes, that can take photos from high overhead? I'm thinking something like this could be an interesting futuristic thriller. And you thought of it all because you tried something different.

One other thing reading is good for, especially for beginning writers, is to help you gain familiarity with how the written word differs from the spoken word. Real life conversations have lots of "hmms" and "yeahs" and such. You don't want your characters talking like that in your novels or articles, at least not most of the time (there will always be exceptions). If characters in books talked that way, it would take forever for any conversation to finish and it would be some dull reading.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Preludes: Four fantasy short stories

You might have noticed a widget addition to the top left of this blog.

I've finally stepped into the modern age. Preludes, a collection of four of my fantasy-related short stories, is now for sale exclusively on the Amazon Kindle for only 99 cents. That's right, 99 cents.

Basic Tips for Editing Your Novel

First, you need to realize there are two different types of editing. There is line editing and plot editing (also called development editing).

Plot Editing
Plot editing is the guts of your novel. It's not only the plot itself, but your characterizations and dialogue, structure and narrative. A lot of it is your style of telling a story. This stuff is important because you want your plot to make sense logically to the reader, your characters need to stand out from one another and the characters' dialogue needs to be appropriate and distinct; you don't want all your characters to talk exactly the same because it's boring to the reader. To add, your story structure needs to flow well, to keep your plot moving. Narrative needs to remain consistent. All of this will help the reader to enjoy their experience with your book all the more, and could have them wanting to see more work from you. Also, following these tips will make your writing appear strong to editors and publishers, and you want to look good to those people if you want to be a published novelist.

Line Editing
Line editing is the nuts and bolts work. Things like checking for grammar, spelling, punctuation, etc. A lot of this might seem tedious work, but it is important. A clean manuscript says a lot to editors and publishers to whom you are submitting your work. It tells them you are serious. It tells them you are professional. And it tells them you are someone they can probably work with. Before you reach this stage in your editing, you have possibly had to do a fair amount of rewriting, so line editing really should be the last type of editing you to do your manuscript.

For editing, especially line editing, I'll suggest two books that can help:

The Elements of Style, by William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White

The Pocket Idiot's Guide to Grammar and Punctuation, by Jay Stevenson, PhD.

These two books can be indispensable, and I suggest keeping them right next to your favorite writing spot along with a dictionary and thesaurus.

Breaking the Rules
Keep in mind there are times for writers to break the rules. For example, sometimes you might want to spell a word incorrectly for one reason or another, maybe because the story is told in first person and that's how the character would spell it. Just remember that breaking the rules should only be done for a good reason, and usually is only done well by an experienced writer. Also, don't forget that you might have to explain to an editor or publisher why you are breaking a certain rule or rules; and also remember that if you have to explain why you're breaking a rule, then you probably shouldn't be breaking the rule in the first case.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Pearls Before Swine

When I saw this, I had to laugh. Some days it seems soooo true.

I swiped this Pearls Before Swine strip from Hope they don't mind. If they do, I'll remove it.

Where Do Fiction Writers Get Their Ideas?

Often upon hearing such a question, a fiction writer will think "Where don't you get story ideas from?" The reason for this is there are story ideas all over the place, often right in front of you.

Newspapers, magazines, books, television, the Internet, any medium can offer thousands upon thousands of ideas for a story. And it doesn't matter what genre you're writing in. The ideas are out there.

The truth is professional writers will often come upon the kernel of a story and not have a clue what to do with it, not at first. Then they'll mentally ask "What if?" And sometimes it's just a matter of putting two separate thoughts together to come up with an idea.

For example, say you're at the doctor's office in the waiting room. You're perusing a magazine and come upon a story about great places to fish. Okay, no big whoop. Where's the story idea there? Well, what if several of those great places to fish also happened to be near industrial plants? Hmm. Think. Think. What can you come up with? Monster fish! Okay. Stretch it a little further. Monster fish that are seeking revenge against the fishermen! And there you've got a story. Sounds like horror, but maybe you could turn it into something else, science fiction or fantasy.

Need another idea? Okay, you're online looking around at Wikipedia. You randomly pick a couple of articles. Up pops the first article. It's about the Voynich manuscript, an undeciphered book of what appears to be words and drawings, that was first discovered in about the 15th century in Europe. No one to this day has been able to figure out what this manuscript is about because it seems to be in some kind of secret language. Okay, you randomly seek another Wikipedia article. Up pops a page about the Gearing class destroyers, battle ships first used by the U.S. Navy toward the end of World War II. So, try to make up something that connects the Voynich manuscript with one of the Gearing class destroyers. Sounds difficult? Nah! There's a hundred ways to do it. Maybe some Nazi spies have stolen the Voynich manuscript and believe it is an ancient treatise on some kind of an unknown energy, something like a super laser, and one of the Gearing ships is chasing down the Nazis in order to save the world. Or maybe a seaman aboard one of the ships goes to an island near Japan and discovers a codex similar to the Voynich manuscript; the mystery ensues because the two manuscripts are so similar but were found hundreds of years and thousands of miles apart.

See? It's really that easy. Ask yourself "What if?"

What if someone could throw a baseball all the way to the moon? What if a knight from the Middle Ages fell in love with a Muslim princess during the Crusades? What if a car suddenly sprouted wings and could fly like a giant insect?

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Beginning Writers Should Write Every Day

If you're just starting out as a writer, writing at least a little every day should become commonplace for you. This sounds like a lot of work, and it can be, but it's a habit you need to pick up.

Writing is a lot more work than most people commonly believe. It takes a lot of emotional energy, and it takes time to work at the craft and to become better at it. It's also something easy to forget about, to set aside. After all, most beginning writers aren't getting paid anything for their writing. Usually they're slaving away at their own material in hopes it will be picked up by some editor or publisher. Unfortunately, a writer often has to submit an article or story to many editors or publishers before the story is picked up, if it is ever accepted at all. Rejection is common to writers, even the best, and must be dealt with. How to deal with rejection? Write more. You're skills will improve and the more stories you have to submit the better your chances of becoming published.

But why write every day? That sounds kind of drastic, doesn't it? No, not really. If you are a beginning writer, you need to work on building a habit of writing, of how to get into the correction frame for writing. Many professional writers can do this at the drop of a hat by just sitting down at the keyboard. Other writers have to have a little routine to work up to their writing. Maybe they align some pens on a desk before them, or perhaps they read a little from a favorite author. Whatever it is, it helps that particular writer to move ahead with the day's work.

By writing every day, you are helping to build your skills, but more importantly you are getting your body and mind familiar with writing. You are also making writing not seem like so much of a daunting task.

You don't have to start big. Even if you're working on an extended project such as a novel or screenplay, try just writing 200 words a day. That's not much. You could probably scribble or type out 200 words in five minutes or less. Try that for a week. I'd bet at least on one of those days you'll find yourself wanting to write more than that 200 words; you'll feel the joy and urgency of writing more. Allow yourself to. Next thing you know, you've got a thousand words. Maybe 2,000. Or even more. Eventually you might want to work up to writing a thousand words a day, or possibly even 5,000 a day if you have the time and tolerance for sitting and typing that long.

Eventually, perhaps after months or years, you'll find you won't have to write every day. You can skip a day. Or maybe take weekends off. You might even get to the point where you can go without writing for weeks or months at a time, then can jump right back into it with no problems. That will mean you have reached a plateau many wish for.

Keep in mind most professional writers don't write every single day, though they might write often. They have other duties to perform related to their work. They have interviews to attend, book signings, editing to do, and a thousand other tasks. But most professional writers, especially novelists, will have worked out some kind of unofficial schedule for themselves. They might not write this month because they're on a book tour, but next month they'll write five days a week with weekends off. Something like that is a goal you should reach for if you want to make it as a published, professional writer.

Writing can be scary, but by making a habit of it, you slowly remove that fear. That can help you to focus on your writing.

Monday, June 08, 2009

No, I Won't Write Your Book for You

Writers hear it all the time, especially fiction writers. "Hey, I've got a story idea for you!" Really? How nice. Often the person with the story idea is only trying to be helpful, but other times they have dollar signs in their eyes. For that second type person, words to this nature usually soon come spewing forth, "How about I give you the idea, you write it up and sell it and we split the profits?"

Please. As if coming up with the ideas is the hard part. Writing is a lot of work. Sure, it's sitting in front of a keyboard and typing away, but it's a lot more than that. There's the editing and rewriting. Then there's the marketing work the writer has to do. And the writer has to find an editor, a publisher, an agent, an audience. Most importantly, there's the mental drain that can come with writing. Sure, the writer is flying high emotionally when the words are rolling out great, but an hour or two after that the same writer is spent. He or she might be feeling fantastic, but they're still going to be tired and in need of a mental break before getting back at it. I won't even mention the nights when the words aren't coming out so well.

Most people who aren't writers don't realize all this. Writing isn't as easy as it looks. My wife found that out the hard way this week when she decided to begin working on a novel after years of seeing me do so. She wrote nine pages, then let me look at it. It was actually pretty good, though I had some suggestions. She's interested enough to keep at it. I'm glad for her, but I don't want to write it for her. Nor do I want to write anyone else's novel for them. I don't want to type it up for you. I don't want to edit it. I don't want to try to find an agent or publisher for you. I'll read over it and offer pointers, maybe, but that's about it. Writing is work. It's my job. You wouldn't want me to show up at your job and say, "Hey! I've got a great idea that will increase your workload a whole bunch. How about you do all that work, then we'll split the money? What do you say?" You'd probably call security.

Believe me, I don't need help with my writing. I have more ideas than I'll ever be able to write down within one lifetime. If science ever comes up with someway to extend human life, I'm interested. But not just because I want to live longer. I'd want to write more.

If you're truly interested in telling a story, then you need to be the one to write it. Someone else, no matter how talented a writer they might be, will not be able to tell the story the way you want it told. They will not be able to put the words in your voice, to do the story the justice it deserves. It's your story. Not only should you be the one to tell it, you are the only one who can tell it. At least with your vision.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

No. 31 - The House of the Seven Gables

by Nathaniel Hawthorne

Started: June 2
Finished: June 16

Notes: This is another of those books of classic literature I've been meaning to get to. It's supposed to be an eeiry, sort of gothic tale. Guess I'll find out.

Mini review: I almost hate to admit it, but I was bored through most of this reading. The descriptions and expostion and explanations take up half the book! When it got down to actual storytelling, it was a good book! But that seemed rare. Still, I'm somewhat glad I read it. This is sort of a New England gothic tale, with plenty of spookiness.