Monday, August 25, 2014

Write On!

DC-area writers: September is the perfect time to take a writing workshop, and as it happens, I’ll be teaching FOUR different ones at The Writer’s Center in Bethesda.

Three are one-day (2.5 hour) sessions:

Whodunit? How to Write a Mystery (9/6, 10 am)

Elements of Fiction: Dialogue (9/6, 2 pm)

Writing the Dreaded Query Letter (9/13, 2 pm).

I’ll also be teaching an 8-week workshop:

Fiction II - Writing Compelling Fiction (Saturdays 10 – 12:30) beginning on 9/13.

Click HERE for more details and registration information. If you have specific questions, ask in the comments or shoot me an email!

Write On!


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Saturday, August 23, 2014

Give Me a Hand, Will Ya?

Why do you think the crime writing community is so mutually supportive?

First, let me address the assertion that the crime writing community is supportive.

Yes, yes, yes it is! The vast (vast!) majority of crime writers I’ve met have been generous with their time and advice, friendly, approachable, helpful, and supportive. They seem to operate under the credo, “If one succeeds, we all succeed.” Or “A rising tide raises all boats.” Or maybe “Mystery loves company.”

It’s a wonderful group, and I’m lucky to be a part of it.

Of course, there are many practical reasons why we (crime writers) need to be nice to each other:

    • We know dozens of ways to kill people without leaving any clues.
    • You might have to rely on a fellow writer as a character witness during your murder trial.
    • You never know when you’ll need someone to back you up with a rock-solid alibi.
    • You never know who you might need to drive the getaway car. Or who you’ll have to persuade to come out on a dark and stormy night, with a shovel, and help bury the bodies.

To be fair (at least in my experience), I have to say that most writers I’ve met, regardless of genre, have been very supportive. I guess it’s because we all struggle with that blinking cursor and the never-ending self-doubts about our work.

(This entry is “simul-posted” on Criminal Minds.)


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Thursday, August 7, 2014

No Threat to Society

What’s the worst thing I ever wrote?

Hmm. The worst thing? Hard to settle on just one; there are so many contenders.

I mean, seriously? Bad writing? I’m an engineer. They practically taught us to write in desiccated techno-speak. It seemed the worse I wrote, the better my grade.

Of course, writing is so subjective—one person’s dreck might be another person’s cup o’ tea. And when evaluating, do first drafts count? What about poetry? (The best/worst of my poetry couldn’t hold a candle to Tracy’s example yesterday.) What about stuff I wrote in grade school? Or college? (Did I mention I’m an engineer?)

You see, not such an easy question to answer.

Here’s what I can say:

My first attempt at a novel currently resides in an asbestos-lined vault, buried deep in my backyard, where it poses no threat to society. (I guess that answers the question, huh?) The prose is terrible and there are more plot holes than plot. (It wasn’t all bad. I liked the font I used.) Let’s stipulate that it’s best if we let that one continue to rest in peace.

A few years ago, I went back and took a look at my second attempt at a novel. The prose was horrid in this one, too, but I liked the story and the characters and the structure. So I decided to resurrect it from the depths of my hard drive.

I opened two windows on my laptop, a blank Word document in one and the manuscript in the other. I then proceeded to re-write every single sentence in the book, revising as I went along. After more revision, I can honestly say that it doesn’t stink!

I could go on with more examples of less-than-stellar work, but then I might run the risk of making this blog post the worst thing I’ve ever written.

And there’s only so much room in my subterranean vault.

*******

I had a lot of fun at the recent DC Noir at the Bar. Here’s a video of me reading:

 

 

(This entry is “simul-posted” on Criminal Minds.)


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Thursday, July 24, 2014

Books About Writing Books

What's your favorite writing craft book of all time?

Over the years, I’ve read a number of books devoted to the craft of writing. As you might imagine, many have been helpful (to me), while others haven’t, but even in those less worthwhile volumes, I think I’ve always been able to find at least a nugget or two of valuable writing wisdom.

As with most things in life, you need to be careful about what advice to follow (but it doesn’t hurt to listen and read widely).

On Monday, Meredith mentioned two of my favorite books:

On Writing, by Stephen King

On Writing 

And Bird by Bird, by Ann Lamott (although I would classify this as being more of an inspirational writing book than a craft book).

bird by bird

Let me add a few (random) others:

For those wanting to pen a best-seller:

How to Write Best Selling Fiction, by Dean Koontz

Koontz writing book

A long (long) time ago, back before I even really wanted to be a writer, I picked up a book by Dean Koontz (one of my favorite authors at the time), mapping out how to become a best-seller. For some reason, it’s out of print now, but you can pick up a used copy on Amazon for a mere $68.

 

For those wanting to write a “breakout” novel:

Writing the Breakout Novel, by Donald Maass

breakout novel

This book also has an accompanying workbook (which I haven’t used).

 

For those who have trouble differentiating writing in summary versus writing in scenes:

Scene & Structure, by Jack Bickham

Scene and Structure

When I first started writing fiction, I didn’t know what I was doing. This book helped (a lot!).

 

*********

APPEARANCE NEWS

Want to see ten crime writers, in person, reading their work, AT A BAR?

D.C. area folks will have that chance, this Sunday night at the inaugural D.C. Noir, 8 p.m. at The Wonderland Ballroom. Meredith, Art, and I, along with seven other great writers (Nik Korpon, Steve Weddle, Ed Aymar, Tom Kaufman, Don Lafferty, Tara Laskowski, and Michael R. Underwood), will take turns reading and schmoozing. Come on by—a good time will be had by all.

(This blog entry is “simul-posted” on Criminal Minds.)


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Thursday, June 26, 2014

Give it to me Straight

Writing groups and early feedback - does it help or hinder your process? Why?

If you asked ten writers about their writing process, you’d get fifteen different answers. What works for one writer won’t necessarily work for another, and after having written more than a dozen complete manuscripts myself, I’ve learned that what works for me once, might not work for me again.

Yes, writers can be fickle, finicky creatures with a dependence on coffee and/or bourbon.

However, one thing that remains constant in my writing process is my need for feedback. It’s easy to slop some words down on the page, thinking that I’m saying one thing, when in reality, my work is being interpreted in an entirely different manner (hey, it happens!). I need to understand how my story is coming across to readers so I know if I’m on the right track.

The most beneficial way for me to do this is by participating in a critique group. I give them my words, then sit back to see how they go over (not always so well, I can assure you!). I can find out what works and what doesn’t. Is the plot believable? Are the characters behaving consistently? Is the pacing right for the genre? Do I have ten characters whose names begin with J? Have I dotted all my t’s and crossed my i’s?

Writers can be too close to their work to be able to give it an impartial evaluation. I wouldn’t feel comfortable putting my work “out there” without first sending it through the gristmill that is my critique group. It’s a very valuable—and crucial—part of my writing process.

Without a critique group, I’d be just another writer pounding away at his keyboard, mired in self-doubt. Instead, I’m just another writing pounding away at his keyboard, mired in self-doubt, with a critique group to keep me in line.

(This entry is “simul-posted” on Criminal Minds.)


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Saturday, June 14, 2014

Wise Words for Writers

What three tips would you give to a new writer to help them along their journey?

This is Giving Advice to Writers Week on the Criminal Minds blog, so, first, to recap:

On Monday, Meredith advised writers to:

1) Write a lot.

2) Be patient.

3) Become part of the writing community.

I agree wholeheartedly.

 

On Tuesday, R.J. advised writers to:

1) Never look back when writing (to prevent getting bogged down in re-writing).

2) Throw something unexpected into the story, if you get stuck.

3) Immerse their characters into their surroundings, when describing their settings.

More excellent advice.

 

Yesterday, Tracy advised writers to:

1) Get independent feedback and join a writer’s group.

2) Remember that rejection isn’t personal.

3) Keep writing, no matter how unmotivated you may be (or how much Pinterest might be tempting you).

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

 

Now it’s my turn to pontificate, which is difficult because my esteemed blogmates have mentioned some very helpful hints. However, I shall dig deep and give some advice not yet delivered.

So, writers, heed my words:

1) Read a lot. Not only do you have to write a lot, I believe you have to read a lot, too. Don’t stick solely to your preferred or favorite genres, but read in a wide variety of genres and styles. The more you read, the more well-rounded you will become.

2) Take a writing workshop (or two). Learn from someone who’s done it before. Get a look inside the meatgrinder (steel yourself first!) as you critique other workshoppers’ pages. Getting your own work critiqued will help build rhino hide, which so important for writers.

3) Go to conferences and conventions. Talk to other writers to get a glimpse of their writing process. Form a support network. Meet potential critique partners. Learn about how the craft of writing and the business of publishing relate to each other. Develop your drinking abilities in the bar.

Here’s a “bonus” piece of advice: Learn accounting and the principles of financial investing. You’re going to need that knowledge to properly handle the windfall that comes with being a writer! (Well, all my nuggets of advice can’t be winners.)

Now, go forth and write!

(This entry is “simul-posted” on Criminal Minds.)


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Thursday, May 29, 2014

Ten Feet Under

Do you have a novel in a drawer, a first novel (or a later one) that never saw the light of day?

You bet I do. Except it’s not in a drawer. It’s in an asbestos-lined Kevlar sleeve, in a six-inch-thick solid steel vault, buried ten feet underground in my backyard, where it’s no threat to the welfare of society.safe

Okay, I’m exaggerating. The walls of the steel vault are only five inches thick. 

It’s the first novel I ever wrote, back when I didn’t know a dangling participle from a Flying Wallenda. I knew nothing about esoteric things like characterization and setting and plot and structure and dialogue. I did know a little bit about punctuation, but for some reason, I felt a very strong urge to use a preponderance of semi-colons (and I have a feeling I overused the word “preponderance” too).

I revised it a bit and truthfully, I liked the general story and (many of) the characters. But man, was that prose stilted and formal and phony. And some of the plot twists? Oh my! My, my, my. More than a few coincidences and, shall we say, a preponderance of character actions with questionable motivations.

You might be wondering: Why didn’t I stick with this first novel and keep revising it until it sang?

Not even the best voice teacher in the world could get that turnip to sing.

Wisely, I moved on to my next manuscript, which was clearly better written from the get-go (I guess I learned a lot from my practice manuscript). I know I’m a lot better writer now, but I don’t think I’ll be digging that first attempt up anytime soon to try to resuscitate it. And believe it or not, in some kind of weird time-warped irony, the working title of that first novel was…Unburied Secrets.

(This entry is “simul-posted” on Criminal Minds.)


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