Monday, January 26, 2009


Here's the scenario. You're reading a story where there are several characters and a town trying to deal with a killer. There's a core group of five characters that the story concerns, since the killer has actually targeted them. The author has chosen the omniscient point of view, dabbling a little here and there, getting you in the mind of each character at different times. Adding to the mix, the author has also chosen to give you the points of view of other side characters--a cop who is investigating the crime spree, other detectives working with him. Then, after three hundred and fifty pages, you find out that what you've spent your time reading is about a computer game, where only the five central characters are supposedly real. Everyone else, and the town itself, are just constructs in a computer game, which the five central characters are playing. (And they only figure this out at the end?)

Often, when I finish a novel, I'll just put it out there without adding spoilers. In this case, however, I think readers should be given the spoilers because I don't want anyone else to waste their time with this one. The book: Skin. The author: Ted Dekker.

Maybe I'm not being fair. Maybe the punishment--telling people to avoid this book--doesn't fit the offense. Maybe as writers we should be more graceful about other writer's work. Personally, in this case, I don't care. I think it's a violation of trust when you drag readers along on an almost four-hundred page journey, giving them inside thoughts of characters that turn out to be only computer generated skins. It would have been better to tell the readers about the scenario up front, let the central characters know they are in a game, and then let the game spin wickedly out of control, with people dying both in the game and in real life. As an author, using that strategy you could at least build the level of suspense and conflict without creating a catastrophe in your work.

Ted Dekker has written better stuff. His book Thr3e is a worthy read, and I won't give out the spoilers on that one. Skin, however, is not his best stuff. Not even close.

Even so, I'm glad I read the book. More than anything else, it taught me what authors should not do: destroy their reader's trust. Once destroyed, it is hard to get back. Will I read another Dekker book? Probably. Not anytime soon though.

Friday, January 16, 2009


With all of the demands of life--work, family, and other things--it has been a while since I last visited the writing forums. So, I took some time out lately and meandered through the old familiar territory. In the process, I felt this weird sense of ... well, of being lost. I saw the names of remembered friends, all with a slew of posts to their credit within the last couple of weeks. And yet, it has been well over a month since I've posted anything or even looked at the forums.

So, what's the problem with me? I wondered. Have I failed to manage my time? Have I lost my priorities?

At lunch last week, a friend asked how things were going on the writing front. I commented that things were still going fine, but it was all slow. Before I started writing, I never realized how much work was involved in the process. I never realized how much time you could spend just to finish one story and get it out the door. Maybe it's just me, but when it comes to writing a finished draft I'm an exceptionally slow worker. As I mentioned to another friend lately, for every story I have there is a mountain of revisions. Even my piece of flash fiction that was published in Flash Fiction Online saw at least a half-dozen revisions before I originally sent it out.

And there is my problem. With all the demands of family and work added to my slow writing process, I find I don't have a whole lot of extra time to frolic in the forums, so to speak. On the one hand, I feel like I'm missing out. I feel like I should have more time for the forums. I understand the importance of networking and building a platform, and this is why I have created my blog. But every minute spent in the forums is a minute I could have spent working on my novel or on a short story. Even posting this entry to the blog feels like I have cheated my stories out of their time.

Am I the only one? Am I losing the battle, or am I being too hard on myself? How do other people have time for the forums and still put in quality time with their family, keep their performance up for their day job and keep a solid writing regiment going?

It's days like this when the gremlin hops on my shoulder and squeals in my ear about how I should just hang it up. I can never support my family and still put in the time needed to build up my writing. I guess I'm a glutton for punishment, though, because I still keep doing it. Or maybe it's that stubborn attitude that everyone keeps telling me I have.

So, for all my friends in the forums, please know that I haven't shunned you. I haven't stomped off with my undies bunched in a wad, either. I just haven't found that right formula that makes it all come together.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009


I sent another story back out today. This now makes two rejections for my short story "The Hit". On one side of the brain, I hear a voice high in the stratosphere, wailing out the old Queen lyrics: "And another one gone, and another one gone, and another one bites the dust." Then, there's a second voice coming from the opposite side, and this one sounds strangely like John Kerry: "Bring. It. On!"

As writers, we know that rejection is a way of life. Sure it's painful. Sure I would like to feel like the planets are aligned, that we've found a cure for cancer, and that may "God bless us every one!" (Say it again, Tiny Tim. Just one more time.) But like everything else in the world--whether it's the long, drawn-out wait in the doctor's reception area, or watching a loved-one experience a slow, agonizing trial--my mind always comes back to the same mantra: This, too, shall pass. So, out the story goes like a grown up child, with a gentle boot in the rear by her parent. "Carry on, my loved one. Grow wings and fly."

It's hard to face rejection, but I am determined to accept it for what it is--just another part of the business.

And business it is. Part of what I do for my stories--to follow their rejections and acceptances--is to track them with a spreadsheet. Okay, I'll pause for a brief moment to allow those of you out there to cackle and laugh at the CPA who has found another use for spreadsheets...

[Tune from Jeopardy plays softly in the background]

I have set up columns for Titles, Publisher, Date Sent, Date of Response, Accept/Reject, Compensation. And for each story, I have a row for each Publisher submitted. This makes it easy to see how many times I have received a rejection. Once a story garners five rejections, then I stop and consider whether I need to really revise. And now that we're into the first quarter of the year, with my last column I can easily see how much money I made for tax purposes.

How about you? How do you keep track of things?

Tuesday, January 6, 2009


One of the issues that has plagued my writing, and mainly for those who read it, is the use of flashbacks. Often the criticism takes on the following form: "Why did you slow down the action with flashback?" The problem for me is reaching the editor, or the slush reader, who wants to be drawn in immediately, and giving something good that will push them forward. As such, my goal is to hook the reader right from the first sentence, or at the least from the first paragraph, and that usually means launching the story right in the middle of a conflict. (In medias res, right?) Taking this approach, however, leaves little initial room for back story, which I also think is necessary at times for my readers to understand the character.

One of the biggest problem with flashbacks for me involves transitions--how to smoothly move the reader into the past, and then back into the present, without jarring them completely from the story. One of the articles I read in the past suggested using the past perfect tense to signal the beginning of the flash back. For example:

It had happened one night while they were driving home from the movie theater...

From then on, the article instructed the writer to simply use the past tense, as there was no need to continue on in the past perfect tense. That is all fine, I suppose, to get the reader into the flash back. The problem, though, is getting the reader back to the present time of the story. If this is not handled properly, the reader is left disoriented and frustrated. I know. I heard enough criticisms to vouch for it.

I've been thinking about flashbacks this last week as I've launched into Lisey's Story (pronounced Lee-Cee) by Stephen King. As I've been reading, it dawned on me how much this novel relies on flashbacks. In order to handle this, Mr. King has chosen to break up his novel into chapters and then sub-chapters. Here is how the first chapter starts:

I. Lisey and Amanda (Everything the Same)


From there, the novel progress on with 2, and then 3 and then up to 5 before the reader finds Chapter II. The beauty of this technique is that somewhere in the larger chapter (using sub-chapter 3 maybe) the writer can launch into a flashback without totally confusing the reader. As an alternative, the writer can use a whole chapter to provide the flashback, as Elmore Leonard did with several of his westerns.

And this has given me a new approach in writing my novel, which also needs mucho flashbacks for the reader to connect with the subtext of the story. This is just another reason, I suppose, why we need to be constantly reading while we're constantly writing.