Category Archives: Writing

To Pants or not to pants

They say there are two types of writers, planners and pantsers.

pantsPlanners meticulously write out every setting, every character sketch, every plot point before the write “Chapter One” at the top of the first page.

Pantsers sit down with a blank page and write until it starts to make sense, and then the re-write what they’ve spewed forth into a story.

In reality, most people are somewhere in between. Some come up with detailed plots only to change them when they start to write. Others come up with a few milestones they want to hit along the way and then just go for it.

Personally, I’ve always been more of a pantser. I’ve usually written without any kind of plot or plan. Sometimes I have a vague idea of how I want things to end, and sometimes I don’t. This is, honestly, lots of fun. I will never forget the joy I felt the first time Vinnie hosted a party.

On the other hand, Pantsing is also my worst enemy. I get halfway through a novel, and I get stuck. This happens often. Way too often. I have restarted the sequel to Minion of Evil three times, and I still haven’t finished it–not that fun and not very productive.

In full disclosure, I did try to plan once before, and it was horrible. Everything fell apart by Chapter Two.  But I’m crossing my fingers and hoping this was just a fluke.

So, lately, I’ve been thinking that despite my previous failure, it’s time to refine my writing style, incorporating more planning. I may not run into as many happy surprises, but I may finish more books. Over the next few weeks, I’m going to try to become a reformed pantser.

That Gnats

Female_black_fungus_gnatLike many authors, I’ve spent time, some might say an excessive or obsessive amount of time, studying what makes writing effective. One of the sources that I used to read religiously was the blogs of literary agents, as they were the gatekeepers and the masters of slush reading.

One such agent said that the first thing she looked for were “that gnats,” unnecessary use of the word “that” as a filler. You might have noticed that I’ve been purposefully leaving them in and marking them for emphasis.

I soon realized that I used that gnats almost constantly both in my written and everyday speech–maybe this is a midwestern thing, New Yorkers are just to busy to use an extra that here and there. So, I’ve slowly been training myself, especially in the editing process to find that gnats.

So, yesterday, I posted about my new book on Facebook, and as I was going through my feed today I found this in the blurb I had written:

Some people would say that Nick Baker has it all: the trust fund, the family connections, and the country club membership.


I am a Spoilsport

file55843196ed611 So, I screwed something up today. A writer I like asked a question on her Facebook page about an obscure reference, and I answered that I didn’t get it, but the information was easily Googled, along with a link to the Wiki page I found and linked to.

Later, someone pointed out that she had said, “no spoilers,” in her post. Oops.

However, I can’t help but think how is my explanation of the reference a spoiler? Isn’t her reveal that it’s an obscure reference the actual spoiler? Apparently, not everyone feels this way, as someone cautioned me for revealing too much.

Now, I know explaining a joke makes it no longer funny, but here’s the thing I like about pop culture references: if you get them, they’re kind of like a little joke, but if you just lightly touch on them or move on, the reader thinks they’re part of the scenery. Unlike telling an overt joke, they can actually be funny, or at least interesting, in the explanation.

The again, maybe the author didn’t want “spoilers” because she didn’t want people’s answers influenced by the comments. In which case, just ignore this whole post.

On Reviewing My Reviews

Jed Peterson and Jim Hines

Jed Peterson and Jim Hines — I guess I should get a picture of myself and Jim.

So, today, Jim C Hines was writing about the ethics of authors reviewing other authors.

I was thinking about this the other day. I noticed almost all of my GoodReads ratings are five stars. I started reviewing my ratings and realized something about myself. If I’m not beta reading for a friend, I tend not to finish books that I don’t fall in love with.

If I am beta-reading, and I really like a piece, I assume the final form is going to be at least as good, and I’ll rate it without reading the final version. Probably the only exception to this is pieces by Dylan Moonfire and Adam Whitlatch, both of which I usually end up reading one last pass of the final version.

I probably recite passages from Birthright and Sand and Blood in my sleep.

If I am beta-reading, and I’m lukewarm about a piece, I feel like it’s unfair to leave a rating, as often a few minor tweaks can make things come together. Then, I usually don’t bother to read the final, because I didn’t go nuts over the beta-read.

That being said, a fair review is a fair review. If another author read my work and genuinely didn’t like it. I can’t be upset if they give me a low rating.

Although, I should admit that I have held back a bad reviews. I usually do this  because I liked the author and didn’t want to offend; or because I didn’t like the author, and I was afraid I would not be able to maintain my objectivity.

It’s okay to suck.

file55492d0c4e352So the other night at the con, I was telling an aspiring writer that it was okay to suck, and he cut me off before I had the opportunity to make my point, telling me he was not Stephenie Meyer.

First of all, it was kind of rude of him to interrupt–but this is perhaps forgivable as alcohol was involved. Secondly, he had no idea who I was, and you can throw a stick in any con and hit two authors (this is a minimum, at some you can hit ten.) Now I’m not saying I’m anyone important, but for all he knew, I could have been Stephenie Meyer’s friend, or even worse, a friend of her agent. Also, and this may just be me, I don’t think it’s okay to be badmouthing other authors, unless they sodomized your dog, or burned down your garage. I let this rule slide a little if I know the person actually suffered through their books. Buy hey, tastes are different. I’ll forgive the pro whose work I don’t like way before I’ll forgive hubris.

Anyway, enough ranting, time to get back to why sucking is awesome–and no, no need to tell me about the innuendo, I’ve already thought of it.

Sometimes, writers get stuck. It’s a natural part of the creative process. Maybe you’re depressed or tired. Maybe you spent all your creative energy on another endeavor.  At this juncture you have three choices.

  1. You can walk away. No writing today. I try not to do this very often, as I’ll explain below.
  2. You can sit and stare at the page, not coming up with a perfect next line. So, you’re not producing, and you’re not having any fun.
  3. You can give yourself permission to suck and write another sentence, then another one, and so on.

I tend to choose number three, and here’s why: Just because you give yourself permission to suck doesn’t mean you will. Even if you do suck, you took ownership of your piece and moved forward. Sure, some day you may delete it all in editing, but I’m often surprised by how good the material is. I end up editing it into something more usable. And sometimes, when I think I’m having a great day, I write pages of well-written material that don’t make it past the edit process.

Writing Reviews


I enjoy binder clips.

I promised Dylan Moonfire that I’d write a review of Sand and Blood for him.

I very much wanted to do this. I enjoyed Sand and Blood, and I felt Dylan should get a good review from me because of that. Writing reviews is one of the best ways authors can support each other–or at least those authors whose work we enjoy.

I hate writing reviews, though. Because of this, I make a habit of not writing reviews of books I don’t like. But even when I really like a book, I never feel like I know what to say–not good for a writer–and even when I put down my honest opinion, I have doubts that anyone will believe me or find it helpful and interesting.

Also, I worry that I am biased toward people I like. I shouldn’t have this opinion, because I’ve read plenty of things I didn’t like by people, even professional authors, who I had a great time with in person. Also, I really like writing by authors who I don’t care for personally.

I secretly fear that someday the Amazon or GoodReads police (are they the same police now) will expose me as a fraud, because all my reviews are 4 or 5 stars (more likely five) but I write those reviews in good faith, and I’d probably have a lot of one and two star reviews, but I tend to keep those opinions to myself. Because if you don’t have something good to say about someone’s book, should you say anything at all?

Also, I don’t tend to finish stuff I don’t like.

I’ve made a horrible copyright mistake

public-domain-logo-slightly-nicerOkay, I haven’t really made a horrible mistake, but saying I “almost” made a mistake doesn’t sound nearly as dramatic.

I was looking for some quotable poem for new new manuscript, and I found the perfect thing, however, I knew I’d have to check on the copyright status. In today’s world, figuring out the actual date a work goes into the public domain can be complicated.

O Venus, beauty of the skies,
To whom a thousand temples rise,
Gaily false in gentle smiles,
Full of love-perplexing wiles;
O goddess, from my heart remove
The wasting cares and pains of love.

So, I looked up the publication date of the poem, and found out it was attributed to a poet named Sappho in 600 BC. And here’s where I almost made my mistake. I stopped there.

It wasn’t until I was editing my piece later that I started to think there was something wrong with my logic. Sure, the original was thousands of years old… but wouldn’t the original have been written in ancient Greek?

So, this becomes a translation, and translations, even translations of things like the bible have their own copyright rules. They can be considered derivative works and come under the original work’s copyright, but they can also, if suitably different be considered a separate work, entitled to copyright protection. So, I had to find the history of the translation and determine its copyright status. Fortunately, this particular translation was done by Ambrose Philips in 1711.

So, disaster has been avoided. However, I was lucky in this case. While the piece seems antiquated, it could have easily been done in the 1960s and still have copyright protection.

The Best Show Don’t Tell Advice Ever

Tim Leach wrote this on Reddit today, and it is awesome.

The evolution of the writer usually goes like this:

  • Beginners tell too much. They get told over and over again about show don’t tell.
  • Amateurs show too much. They no longer tell anything, and so everything is over described.
  • Professionals know when to tell and when to show.

“Show don’t tell” is not an overrated rule, as it really is a major weakness that’s almost universal to up and coming writers, so beating people over the head with it usually yields some results. But telling has its place too – it’s punchy, effective, and can be evocative if the voice that’s doing the telling is strong enough.

The rule I do try to stick to with “show don’t tell” is to apply it to character emotions. I try never to write “Dave was angry”, “Jeff was scared”, but to show them being angry or scared. You’ve also got to be careful about using tell too much for exposition, it can be very lazy and super dull. But yes, telling is a useful skill. Sometimes…

TL:DR – Show is usually better than tell, except when it’s not. Sorry that’s contradictory. Writing is hard.

Two weeks of nothing special except the one thing.

10505493_10152934717752004_967532443341958906_nThere are two different things in this missive, so if the first one is boring, skip down to part B.

So, I finally broke down and got carpal tunnel surgery on my left hand. I’d done my right a few years ago, and it had helped considerably. This meant a whole two weeks with my hand in a splint and not being able to do much at all except read, take pain pills, and watch movies. Since this is essentially my ideal vacation, this didn’t bother me too much. I made quite a dent in both my James Bond and Stat Trek BluRay collection, and I watched the excellent British show Foyle’s War.

The biggest downside of my little enforced vacation was the inability to drive myself anywhere. If I’d had the ability, I would have spent some time in the coffee shop or the wine shop. I did spend some time writing, but I only put down a half page the entire time–between the pain and the splint getting in the way, it kind of sucked.

Okay, so that brings us to the part of the last two weeks which is momentous news–wow, I really know how to write a story, don’t I?. I was contacted by a friend of mine, Adam J Whitlatch and offered an internship as an editor at KHP Publishers. After a Skype call with the editorial staff, I accepted the position.

Now, I know what my friends and readers are going to say, “Just one minute. Don’t you need more time to write as it is? Didn’t you turn down a job as a full editor just a year or two ago for that very reason?” You would be right to say that. It weighs heavily on my mind even now. Here’s the deal though, as an unpaid intern, I have a lot more leeway to make mistakes and see if being an editor is indeed for me than if I were jumping into the deep end head first.

So, there it is, I have six months to prove to them, and also myself, if it’s worth both our time for me to be an editor.

Time to get serious and piss around a bit


This Toulouse-Lautrek is here for no other reason than I am currently reading Christopher Moore’s brilliant book Sacre Bleu

So, I’ve been working on a sequel to MINION OF EVIL. This is not the first time I’ve started this particular book, but I’ve discovered that sequels can be difficult. If you’ve already saved the world and got the girl, what else is there?

However, I have gotten a full 25,000 words into this book, meaning that I can probably proclaim I’ve made it through to the middle. This is a good thing. If I make it to the middle, I can usually muddle through to the other side. In a year or two of serious redrafting, I may even have a readable book. For me, this is an exciting thing. I like finishing manuscripts.

Lately, I’ve had a lot of trouble producing new fiction. And I’m beginning to believe I know why. I used to write to the end of the chapter. If something silly occurred to me, it would go in. But lately, I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about the end of the book, and the arc of the story vs. the arc of the character.

At first, I believed these deep thoughts to be an indicator that I was arriving at the next level, as a more mature, tested writers. But lately, they have been weighing heavily on my, like an albatross around my neck.

That’s cool though. It’s all about the learning process. And it’s nice to know that I still know practically nothing this far into the game.