Category Archives: general

IWSG: March 2020

It’s time again for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group! Posts go up the first Wednesday of each month. Read more posts and/or join in here.

What am I insecure about these days? My lack of time to write, and my disinclination to do so when I do have a little bit of time. There have been health things going on, and a lot of travel, and a lot of stuff revolving around the kids… A lot of it is good, but it ALL eats up minutes and hours and days.

Question of the Month: Other than the obvious holiday traditions, have you ever included any personal or family customs in your stories?

Probably? I know I’ve been influenced by Southern Louisiana culture in a couple of pieces I’ve written (The K-Pro, no longer in print, and an unfinished novella titled “Voodoo Lessons.”) These were more personal adaptations of broader traditions, myths, and superstitions. The K-Pro, for example, actually blended Greek myth with a touch of gris gris, and was loosely based on my experiences on film sets. Maybe I’ll re-release it some day.

IWSG: January 2020

It’s time again for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group! Posts go up the first Wednesday of each month. Read more posts and/or join in here.

I’m excited for a new, hopefully more productive year. Last year I wrote and published one story (“Origami of the Heart,” available to read for free on the sidebar). Yesterday I re-launched my novel The Fall and Rise of Peter Stoller. So I guess I’m already ahead of what I accomplished last year, but here’s hoping my current WIP goes somewhere.

Question of the Month: What started you on your writing journey?

You know, I really wanted to write for television and/or film. Those were the stories that captured me. I loved (alert: about to show my age) Moonlighting and MacGyver and pretty much anything Stephen Spielberg did. So that was my ultimate goal and the reason I went to film school. It’s the reason (I believe) my dialogue writing is some of my best. And, like many writers, I started out writing fan fiction because of my love for these shows and characters, but also out of a desire to be part of that industry. Alas, despite much great feedback and many strong results in various screenwriting competitions, I’ve never managed to break in. (I did work in the industry for a while, though.) I ended up getting my Master’s in Writing, Literature and Publishing, and I pivoted to focus there. I’ve always loved to read and write anyway, and the lovely thing about writing a book or story is that there are far fewer hoops to jump through to get to a finished product. Now, with self-publishing, the only one who needs to say “yes” is me!

Goodbye, 2019. Hello, 2020.

This year was one of major changes for me, but I’m grateful for that. Because I believe all the changes were for the better. We moved house, for one thing. And I didn’t write as much. How is that for the better? Well, I spent a lot of time this year focused on home and family, and those bonds are stronger than ever now. So I think that’s a good thing.

I did at least write one short story that got published! (If you haven’t read “Origami of the Heart” yet, click on the cover in the sidebar. It’s free to read!)

There were a lot of shifts in my writing relationships as well. A group I’d once left began to meet again, if spottily, and I hope I can spend more time with them because I do love all the members. Another group I’ve been with for a few years began to disintegrate a bit, so I’m stepping away from them for the time being. Because I didn’t do much writing this year, I haven’t had as much need for critique groups or writing meetups. I still want to be there for others, but with all the demands of home and family this year, it was more difficult to make the time. Still, I did enjoy the times I got to socialize with all my writing buds.

I don’t make resolutions, but I do try to set goals. Not just at New Year’s but all year long, and with the understanding that goals can change and I need to remain flexible. For 2020, I’d like to finish my current WIP. That’s my only writing goal for the moment. Given that I only managed one short story in 2019, I think it’s a fair target to want to finish one… novel? Novella? I’m not sure yet what this one will be.

I’ll start 2020 ahead of 2019 already because I’ll be re-releasing The Fall and Rise of Peter Stoller in January, as both an ebook and paperback. There’s that at least. I might also be re-releasing The K-Pro later in the year.

2019 wasn’t big for travel in that I (we) only took one major trip to Disney World (plus a Disney cruise). I know that sounds like a lot, but usually I go to a conference or something, too. I’ve got some travel to look forward to in the coming year: Disneyland and Japan. No plans for any writing conferences though, since I really have scaled back the writing overall.

Anyway, here’s wishing you a happy new year and new decade. Though a new year is not required for setting a goal or making a change—you can do that any day, week, month, hour or minute—I hope that your 2020 gets off to a good start. And that you make progress in the direction of your dreams, whatever they may be.

Rules Need Not Apply

I have a Master’s degree in Writing, Literature and Publishing. I worked in publishing for ten years and have been writing and publishing my own work for almost as long. But today, when I posted a question about which of two names I should possibly use for a new project, a old, white man responded with: “My writing books say…”

Patronizing? Absolutely. Mansplaining? Yup. And completely useless. Because how-to writing books are for losers.

Yeah, I said it.

Let me tell you a story about when I was learning to read tarot. I bought every book about tarot that I could find, and every time I read a spread, I’d check the books to see what each card meant, trying to suss meaning from what was in front of me. I was trying to follow “rules” but it wasn’t working. Then one day I just read a spread on my own. It was intuitive. It came easily. The cards made sense. The how-to books had been a buffer between me and the natural flow. They’d been a crutch to me because I’d been too afraid to try on my own.

Grammar has rules, ones you should stick to… mostly. Writing has rules, too, but they’re better learned from actually reading than from a stack of manuals. Why? Because I’ve found that people who write based on how-to advice produce stilted, dry prose and often terrible dialogue. Writing isn’t math, despite the use of the word “formula” being tossed around now and then. You don’t learn the rules and then apply them universally, not if you want to write anything with actual heart and emotion—basically anything compelling and, well, good.

I’ve also discovered that writers who’ve armed themselves with “rules” often never get far in their projects, largely because they worry so much about whether they’re doing it “right.” That’s the problem with these books and this idea that there is a wrong and right way to put words to paper. I’d say some things work better than others, but even then that doesn’t mean if you do it differently it’s somehow incorrect. In any case, I always tell people to write first. Only after it’s written should you worry about fixing anything that isn’t working. If you worry about it being correct the first time, you’ll paralyze yourself. First drafts are meant to be edited. So are second, third, and fourth drafts. Writing isn’t about getting it right the first time. There is no correct answer to your story. YOU get to decide what’s right for it, for your characters, etc. That power can be scary, but once you learn to wield it wisely, it’s also very liberating.

Writing rules don’t account for personal writing style. And many writing books are old and don’t apply to newer, more modern methods of writing. Some things about the craft are eternal, but much of the business is fluid and ever changing. That’s why books written in the 80s sound so different from books published in the last couple years.

Going back to my tarot example, there are hundreds of various decks one can use. Mostly, they all have the same cards (there are, of course, exceptions). But a Queen of Cups in one deck might look and feel very different from the Queen of Cups in another. While some of the core meanings of the card are the same, depending on the deck (and the reader), you might intuit very diverse meanings. That is to say, not all possible meanings apply all the time. Nor do all writing rules apply universally or with equal weight to every story.

Find your voice. Find your style. Write. And only after having written, go back and figure out what does and doesn’t work and which rules to apply.

IWSG: December 2019

It’s time again for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group! Posts go up the first Wednesday of each month. Read more posts and/or join in here.

I was thinking about this the other day, and then a friend emailed and I thought about it some more. The fact is, I write very unfashionable gay fiction. (Not all my books feature gay characters, but many do. Here’s a handy guide.) That is, I don’t write steamy m/m sexy stuff. And I don’t write angsty oh-my-god-i’m-gay stuff where someone is just realizing or has to come out or has their first ever gay experience or whatever. I write gay relationships that are… normal? Average? I write them like I write heterosexual relationships, and that’s for a reason. I have a lot of gay friends, and their sex lives are not entertainment. They have a lot of the same relationship issues as any straight person I know. Being gay isn’t that big a deal for most of them now that they’re out. So… Yeah. I made a semi-conscious decision to depict these characters and relationships not as some exotic, erotic “other” but as ::shrug::

Anyway. It seems like people want to read about gay lovers as something exotic and erotic and melodramatic. So I’m way off trend. But whatever. I’ll do my own thing. (Assuming I ever write again at all. Still not feeling it.)

Still trying to place this one short story… The only thing I wrote all year, and who knows if it will ever see the light of day? Am I feeling insecure? I don’t think so. Lately I feel very zen about my lack of ability to write.

IWSG: November 2019

It’s time again for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group! Posts go up the first Wednesday of each month. Read more posts and/or join in here.

What am I insecure about these days? Everything. I haven’t done much writing this year, and it’s the first year since 2015 that I haven’t published anything either. My sales and page reads have plummeted. I just can’t seem to get up any kind of motivation or interest. I’m plenty busy with other things in my life, and I just don’t know if or when I’ll get back to writing.

Question of the Month: What is the weirdest thing you’ve Googled when researching a novel?

I really don’t know. Probably something to do with death or bodily injury? Also a lot of little historical details, like about gloves in Regency England. I have so many bookmarks for those things!

The Unpopular Truth

Much of the posts aimed at writers (and creatives in general) are bent toward one thing: encouragement. “Don’t give up!” and “Follow your dreams!” and all that. Which is good. Sometimes. But just as important is knowing when to accept reality, when to adjust your sails, or just plain quit.

A year or so ago, a young man wanted to meet to talk about screenwriting. Over Panera, I had to gently break the news that, no, Sony was not going to read his Sonic script. His only interest was in how to get it to them; naturally, he did not want to hear that it was fruitless. And sure, I suppose if he made the right connections and met the right people… But to do that, he needed to either get an internship or write something original that got attention before he could then make a play for a known property. That’s a lot of work, and there’s no instant gratification in that scenario, so he wasn’t interested.

Nor was he interested in anything but his one script. I see this sometimes—writers with “passion projects” that they focus on. A good writer needs passion in order for his or her work to have impact, but having only one script or manuscript is the same as buying only one lottery ticket. You might win, but your chances are better if you buy several. I’m not advocating gambling, but writing is a gamble. You put time and effort into something that may never get published or produced. You’re betting your time will be worth it but, sadly, sometimes it comes to naught.

Your odds get better, though, if (a) you work on more than one thing, and (b) you’re realistic about your chances, the market, etc. That young man with the Sonic script had reduced his odds to nil by having only one script, and that being based on a copyrighted property. At best it might be a good spec sample for people to see his writing ability. But these days specs are less in demand; it’s better to have original content and ideas.

And sometimes you just have to stop chasing the white rabbit. No one wants to hear that they should set a project aside, “trunk” it as some writers call it. That maybe it’s not ready for prime time. That maybe wait for the market to change or… *ahem*… maybe it’s just not that good. Which doesn’t mean the time was wasted! No time spent writing is wasted because practice is so important. But not everything you write is going to be worthy of publication or production. That’s the thing people don’t want to hear or believe. That sometimes you just need to quit and move on.

IWSG: August 2019

It’s time again for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group! Posts go up the first Wednesday of each month. Read more posts and/or join in here.

Q: Has your writing ever taken you by surprise?

A: I’m mostly surprised by my characters when they do something I didn’t plan on (but that, in hindsight, makes perfect sense). But I’ve also been surprised more than once by agents responding 1+ years after I queried, asking whether I’m repped yet. Usually in these cases they’d either like to (a) see the rest of the manuscript, or if they had a full they (b) are suggesting an R&R (revise & resubmit). Unfortunately, none of these have ever resulted in representation, so… But it’s nice when an agent shows interest or is encouraging.

Don’t Tell Me

There are a couple of things I hear/read periodically that I find absolutely infuriating. These are false statements that pretend to be encouraging but that actually undercut a writer’s confidence and motivation.

1. If you want it badly enough, you can achieve it.

Not true. You can want something, you can try every possible avenue, and still not achieve it.

2. If you’re talented enough, you’ll rise to the top.

Again, not necessarily true. You can be very good at what you do, but there are other factors. Networking and connections play a big part in success. So does grit. There are many smart, capable people who fail, not for lack of desire so much as lack of motivation. Or even lack of support, since, despite our individualist society, few people are able to make it on their own. And even brilliant people don’t know everything, so sometimes it’s know-how that the person needs.

3. Don’t worry, you’ll get there.

You can’t promise that. Unless you have a specific ability to help the person in question—you have connections, knowledge, etc.—don’t say this. I realize it’s meant to be reassuring, but we already have a culture that falsely believes that only good things and people succeed, that the way to judge something’s or someone’s worth is to see if they (a) make money, (b) become famous. Since we all can point to plenty of terrible rich and famous people, you can see this is a flat-out fallacy. We can point to bad books and movies that somehow still get published and made, which again proves that not everything that rises is cream.

Am I bitter? Sometimes. I don’t think there’s any harm in being honest and admitting that. It can be difficult to keep going when the road seems to be one dead end after another. And so many people say the above things to me, which, while I understand the good intentions, I’d really rather have the help and support rather than hollow words.

IWSG: July 2019

It’s time again for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group! Posts go up the first Wednesday of each month. Read more posts and/or join in here.

Honestly, I wasn’t convinced I would continue to participate in this because I’ve pretty much shut down my writing network. I deleted my author page on Facebook, abandoned my Instagram, and have removed my Twitter app from my phone. I left every writing group on Facebook, too, unfriended a ton of people, and muted several more. I’ve had a real struggle with the lack of support from friends, family, and the community at large, and I’m pretty close to giving up completely.

That said, I do have two good writing friends helping through my crisis. So I’ll post this month, for now, and continue taking things a day at a time.

Question of the Month: What personal traits have you written into your characters?

A: I’m sure several bits of myself show up in my characters, but you’d have to ask those who know me (and have read my work) to point them out. I never intentionally put parts of me into my characters. But I can say I’ve shared experiences with some of them. For example, I based some of The K-Pro on my time spent on film sets. There is likewise a story in The World Ends at Five that is extrapolated from an author signing I attended. In fact, I remember thinking that story up as I walked to work one day. Anyway, I’m sure my characters do have telltale signs of my DNA, but to parse that would take no little time.