Sunday, December 31, 2017

Reflections at Solstice

The solstice, that darkest day, is my time for reflection on the year that has passed and a time to plan what to do in the lengthening meteorological winter daylight that follows. What will I do in the forthcoming dark, cold weeks, that I haven't done in seasons past? Will I continue to follow my muse's capricious whims and add more words to things attempted earlier without resolution or should I embark upon new drafts without assurance that they will ever be completed and end up like their predecessors, languish half finished on my cluttered desktop? Will I work on more pieces this year than last or, more importantly, publish more?

I always resolve to do better, to work on a new idea until the writing is sufficient and it can start the rounds of editors, but find that random thoughts switch me to onto different trains of thought, leaving completed scenes parked on the siding awaiting the return of the muse's engine? Will abandoning the scattered snatches and bits already "complete" persist, or can a renewed resolution overcome bad habits? Maybe this is why I have so many incomplete longer works languishing, that I am constitutionally incapable of concentrating on one damn thing without being enticed onto something else?

No matter how I struggle to overcome my ADD it continues to govern my writing. Perhaps the restricting mechanics of the shorter stories allow me to focus in the brief while before something else distracts me.  That affliction also helps me avoid the Novel's need for providing excessive detail or expounding with expansive commentary that distracts from a perfectly good short story.

At least I hope so.


Saturday, December 9, 2017


Lightning strikes where and when it may.  As you've seen, the agony of a writer (well, me, actually) occasionally turns to ecstasy when something (anything!) is completed.

For the last three months I've been struggling to come up with a concept for a story that would fit an anthology I'd been invited to join. I wrote several outlines and attempted four successive drafts, none of which seemed promising, getting four or five pages down before realizing that the idea wasn't going to be worth the effort, and bemoaning the fact that my creative well of ideas was going dry. Now, this wasn't the only thing I had going: I always seem to have a handful of projects (actually struggles to make sense of a lot of half-baked ideas thatI'd already invested too much time in to abandon) going so this proximate problem commandeered only a small part of my general misery.

Then virtual lightening struck. A germ of an idea came from God-knows-where and I began writing a list of things to be considered which quickly turned into three characters, a plot, and actual scenes.  As quickly as that the entire story came together and, a day later, it was a finished piece.

Now I have no idea of how or why this happened. Some of my friends say its because my subconscious was working on this full time while I screwed around.  Others say it was my muse, that fickle bitch, who decided to embrace me for a time.  Personally I don't give a damn about why it happened, but I care deeply about the how of it.  Why did one sentence build upon another and create something out of whole cloth, the words building a world without forethought?  What magic bends the mind into creative channels and not the prosaic humdrum of reality?  What spell illuminates the joy of words that let you fly to unseen, unknown worlds?

But maybe that's why I struggle to write; just so I can get an occasional ticket to ride that incredible flight.


Sunday, December 3, 2017


I'll be the first to admit that I am not a conscientious writer. In fact my writing occurs occasionally in spasmodic bursts of creativity and more often damn, slogging drudge work.  I am also easily distracted (ADD) and not very good on details, a combination that definitely curtails my efforts. Too often I'm distracted by some bright shiny and lose my often tattered thread of plot.  As I've mentioned elsewhere in my blogs, things such as names, places, and descriptions seem to remain liquid, never resolving until the penultimate draft is unknowingly submitted.* The result is that I carry a burden of guilt about my lack of discipline and fret that should I not write for  a while the magic will go away, never to return.

At the same time I can become extremely focused at times, so much so that I ignore not only outside distractions but occasionally, the physical cries of bladder and stomach.  These periods come when  my demons uses their spurs to ride me to exhaustion. A similar focus descends when I am captured by a compelling book, so much so that my copy-editing persona stops mentally correcting words,  sentences, or sometimes an entire scenes to the  point that I often miss the author's intent.  I wish I could be as critical of my own drafts instead of having these damnable teflon eyes that slide over outrageous errors of speliing or grammer.

Yet, there is a time, a brief moment when clarity prevails, when a scene, a line of dialogue, or a plot detail is suffused with such brilliance that it takes my breath away.  I try to capture this as quickly as possible before the next distracting thing pulls me away.  Too often these flashes happen when I am away from the computer, in a meeting, or struggling with another unrelated story. When I attempt to write it down later the result seems only a pale shadow of that revelation.

So I continue plodding along my punctuated path, stumbling too often, and missing many of the possibilities that may be scattered along the way as I try to produce stories beyond my skill level.  This tortuous practice of achieving something memorable seems to be both a curse and a blessing.

But it doesn't stop me from  writing.

*I too often have regrets immediately 
after submission because of my PSS**



Sunday, November 19, 2017

Demons Abound

 Every writer has their imps, demons, and vexing monsters.

Many are the little ear imps that whisper discouragement whenever you begin to write.  They cajole and criticize every sentence written, they distain every word selected and scoff at attempts to  replace it with a more precise one. They pester you with niggling thoughts of other ways you could have chosen to twist the plot.  All of these ever-present voices are irritating in the same way as mosquito bites; ever present and absolutely impossible to ignore, although not enough to interrupt your creative flow.

The demons speak of somewhat larger irritants; concerns about where your recently submitted  piece sits in the editor's queue, if you are going to make a (usually self-imposed) deadline, and how you are going to extricate the protagonist from this or that dilemma.  Other concerns are that you've just sent off a piece that could have used a bit more polish, or that your most recent attempt did not measure up to your earlier works. Being lost in the mail used to be a concern, but now that only applies to missing royalty checks.

The hulking monsters that straddle you and dig their spurs into your psyche are evil beings who create daily nightmares with their black thoughts. The greatest of these is Self-Doubt which seizes on every disappointment, every failed attempt to think of the proper word, every mistake in the drafts as clear evidence that you are a fraud, a failure, and one who only accidentally acquired what little name recognition  you may imagine you have.  Its companion,  Jealousy is the most insidious monster and as capable of crippling your art as the others; everyone you read writes better than the drivel you produce - they are more articulate, their plots more realistic, and backgrounds are more vivid than any you could write.  Then there is the deadly Procrastination that always tugs on the reins of desire, and prevents you from progressing.  This monster is ever offering more pleasant alternatives to sitting at the writing anvil: reading, having lunch with friends, taking a drink of two, just putting things aside, sleeping, or writing meaningless blog posts.



Monday, November 6, 2017

Writing Time

Back when I was grinding hours away on corporate and client matters I always put aside time to write, that is after dinner, walking the dogs, attending to family matters, etc, which usually left damn few hours. When I retired from being paid for my time I volunteered to become the financial guy at SFWA, little knowing that it would last for almost ten years and consume almost as many hours as a regular job.  Needless to say, my writing suffered, going from grinding out two novellas and some shorts a year to only writing short stories and pieces of novels. The aperiodic nature of accounting and dealing with associates who have day jobs across the time zones and companies that demanded more time than I could afford left me almost too exhausted to write very much.

But  think other factors have contributed to slowing my writing production, including that dark shadow that life casts upon anyone approaching the average mortality age for male citizens of the USA. At eighty, I no longer have the energy that once infused me despite a rigorous program to keep the joints lubricated and range of motion exercised.  Suddenly every cough, every bodily pain foretells the time when it changes from being nothing much to becoming the sound of dark shadow's footsteps.

Reading the obituaries of younger people makes me wonder daily when my heart attack will hit, when a stroke will occur, or when some disability will a strike. Every morning I idly wonder, when I try to move my aching bones and stiff muscles, that maybe not getting up would be a better choice.

Then there's the gradual clouding of my writer's mind, the flood of ideas has become a trickle, my draft plots becoming Gordian knots of confusion, and I find the proper words no longer become easily accessible.  During my dismal periods*  I wonder if my loss of interest in overcoming a problem might be a forewarning of  dementia or worse.  Worst of all, from my perspective is how it is becoming all too easy to just put things aside for later; a later that never seems to come.

And the clock ticks away the remaining time I struggle to finish writing those novels, finish drafting the short stories I've started, start a new story, or attack that stack of books and  magazines I never seem to have time to read.  It's a bitch, this growing older.

But that doesn't stop me from writing.

*When I should be writing comedy.


Monday, October 30, 2017

Trunk Diving for Fun & Profit

Whenever I get an anthology request or opportunity my first reaction is to open my trunk and sort through the never-accepted-yet stories and incomplete drafts to see if any of them might be close to the requestor's guidelines. If so I then try to figure out why that piece remains in the trunk and, if possible edit it to bend the story nearer the guidelines.  This does not always result in a new sale, but it does give me another opportunity to run this refreshed piece through other editors.  Once or twice this strategy has worked, and in both cases.

Is it dishonest to pass off rejected (but edited) works as new? I think not.  Neither do I think editing a first draft is dishonest:  Both are refinements of original work, albeit in the one case it is a part of a continuous process and in the former a process interrupted by a few months or, in most cases, years. I feel no shame in admitting this. The market is fickle and sometimes the time just wasn't right.

My other concern when an opportunity arrises is spinning a new story that adheres to the guidelines but is in a universe I've created for another series.  I see no conflict unless the original series editor has also asked for a new story, in which case loyalty comes in to play:  I simply won't abandon an editor simply because another market has a better offer.  I just write something else.

But diving in my trunk sometimes reveals a piece long forgotten (and multiply rejected) but still has a conceit I think is worth preserving.  When I can find no grievous errors or amateurish phrasing I might do a little polish and send it on the rounds again.  Sometimes this finds a receptive editor and at others even more rejections that sink it back into the trunk.

I often kid myself that I write more for my post-mortum anthology than any piece that might appear in my lifetime*.  But that is simply rationalization; most writers I know produce much more text than ever is published,which is not bad because each failed story was an opportunity to further hone their craft or try something new.  It seems that the more drafts I produce the better I become as a writer and as a person, often discovering emotional depths I only later realize while doing a reading and having tears fill my eyes as I struggle to choke out the words.  On occasion someone in the audience will join me, but at least they do not laugh at my mawkish behavior.

I guess I inadvertently reveal too much of myself when I write.

*Certainly the number of pieces in my trunk attest to that.


Saturday, October 21, 2017

One More Week

Another week has passed and my writing proceeds at a glacial pace, grinding my confidence into gravel as the perplexity of what to say next confounds me. I've tried pantsing, diagramming, outlining, and brainstorming none of which informs the plot problems or helps my progress.

When I started this writing business mumble, mumble years agoI had no problem spinning a short story in a weekend, a novelette   in a week or two, and a novella in a few months.  My novels, such as they are, take years to develop and die from the despair of the calendar.  In the past year I've noticed a diminution of the joie de vivre that formerly infused me while composing. Instead I scribble a sentence, change it, change it again, and decide to write something different.  Could this be because I now recognize how poorly I've been writing?  Have I developed taste at long last?  Or is it that I now deliberate more on phrasing, structure, and message than I had before - such is the problem of my increasing (?) skill, but that does not explain my inability to produce on demand.

You'd think that coming up with new story ideas would become easier with practice, that facility with flowing words onto the page would become easier, or that adhering to the tropes of the genre would become second nature.  Instead I find myself burdened with doubts and misgivings.  Scattered portions of poorly thought out scenes litter my writing files, awaiting some magical pass that will gather them into a coherent structure from which I could wrest into something that wouldn't embarrass me.

So another week has passed and I've done a little work on two short stories, laid out the possible slot  structure to finish a novel in progress, started a possible novella, read four novels, and two magazines -- oh look! the new Analog and Asimov's have arrived* -- tried to debate the wisdom of opening a Patreon account and wondering what I might offer that would be worth anything.  And yet here I sit, writing this screed instead of working on one of my unfinished projects.

Who knew writing could be so hard?

*There goes another day at least!

Saturday, October 14, 2017

The Wall

When I sit before the keyboard, even when I do so with intent, I am never certain of what will come.  Sometimes ideas for stories arrive in bunches, all trying to shout loudest to gain the attention of that part of my brain that starts composting and composing (I often confuse the two since both require the ferment of everything I can recall.)  Sometimes I need to be working on a story on X subject that my mind, like an eager puppy, jumped on.  Other times I intend to deal with a completely different subject that screams so loudly for attention that I MUST try to write it.

And there's the rub. In the fervor  of enthusiasm I sometimes hastily begin to compose the masterpiece while the story idea is still fresh and will continue until exhaustion forces me to stop. Sometimes enough  residual energy remains that I am energized to continue to expand and enrich the draft when I next face the keyboard, but sadly, not always and, to be completely honest, hardly ever.

Yet when I touch the keys and begin seeking words equal to those that followed that initial burst of creativity I discover that they, more times than not, come hard.  Even when I fight to wrest every word that will propel the story forward I still fail.  Even attacking the draft from a different direction is to no avail. I am unable to recover that spark that made me so hastily write more words than I am now willing to abandon.  I question if I burned the candle of creativity too fiercely?  Should I have written for another hour or two?  Did I simply not think through the task I faced or fail to define the path the story had to take? No matter how much I try I cannot move the story forward yet am unwilling to admit defeat.

So the piece is shelved, trunked, or simply set aside, waiting for my return.... someday.

However, and often enough to feed my writing addiction, the words flow golden from my mind to the keyboard, each sentence perfectly formed and fraught with meaning. The prose created is crystal clear,  unambiguous, and well-defined. On these rare occasions, no matter how long I am away from it, I can return and continue to the very end.*  When it is finally submitted days after, I bask in the glow of a work well done.

But then comes another morning when I sit down to write.  Before I touch the keyboard I ask myself which will happen; will I face that impenetrable wall or not?

I never know until I begin.

*Usually after only four or five edits


Saturday, October 7, 2017

Achieving Perfection

Lodged deep within the dark recesses of my mind lies the image of Pat, the perfect writer; an imaginary writer against whom I am continually comparing myself.

Pat never lacks for a story idea and executes each with flair, always picking the proper word on the first or second draft, executing a knowledge of the English language with lyrical descriptive passages that somehow do not detract from the execution of a well composed plot. Pat does not spend hours and hours sweating over text but dashes off a few pages before taking a break to converse with agents, editors, and fans and then returns to glance over what has been produced before departing for dinner with friends, leaving an immaculate desktop behind, the computer sleeping while digesting the  portion of a masterpiece it has been fed.

Pat earns enough from writing to pay the bills and never has to take time off to transport spouse or kids to the doctor, market, or some damn PTA thing or other.  Pat's life is orderly and calm so that nothing ever interferes with the hours of pleasurable writing that structure the day.  At night, Pat sleeps soundly and is never beset with nightmares or worse, niggling self-doubts about the passages crafted during the day.

Pat has a wonderful career, with works appearing with great regularity in magazines and thick print novels (in hardback, of course). Pat is sought for panels at all the large conventions where long lines appear at the signing table where Pat never fails to write astonishingly gracious bon mots to accompany the flourishing signature in each and every volume.

I fail to measure up to any of Pat's attributes.  My writing schedule is erratic and the proper words are ever evasive, forcing me to use those of less force or meaning. I lie awake at night worrying about editors taking too long to make decisions, worrying that a magazine will fold before my story ever sees print, worried that the latest piece I sent obviously needed more work so I shouldn't have been so hasty to send it off, worrying that I am not spending enough time on my writing, my family, my job and all of that, all of the foregoing, crashes around my head as I struggle to mold one word after another into something that seems to make sense in draft after draft.

 Yet, despite all the negativity, all the demeaning aspects of writing, I nevertheless find it endlessly fascinating to wrest sense from thought and then to hone that rough nugget of raw draft through repeated edits until the precious jewel within is revealed.

That is why I write despite the niggling image of Pat in my head.


Sunday, October 1, 2017

Time Hopping

One thing my recent trip to China (Beijing, Shanghai, Chi'an, and Hangzhou) has proven is that I am no longer the long distance traveller of my earlier days. Twenty hours crammed into a coach seat and a twelve + hour time shift each way has given me such a bad case of jet-lag (or is it jet-lead?) that random naps are the only rest one gets.

Needless to say the time spent there was wonderful; great food, wonderful people, and traffic management systems that are beyond belief:  Imagine count-down timers on read and green lights! Six way directional arrows.  Hundreds of electric and manual bikes darting among trucks buses, and cars with hair-thin margins of clearance.  Despite excellent public transportation, the crowded motorways seemed to move at walking speeds.  Impressive masses of hundreds of colorful shared bikes clustered at every subway entrance or bus stop. Of course all this is necessary because of the sheer density of the population.

Shanghai at night
Shanghai, Beijing, Hangzhou, and Chi' an were impressively modern and, at times, I felt I was on the set of Blade Runner.  The architecture was more impressive that Chicago's and I don't doubt that the buildings' architects as well known. On the outskirts of all three cities were tall monoliths of hundreds of apartment buildings marching to the horizon with nary an individual house in sight.  As many new towers were being build as those already in place.  You had to get beyond the big cities to find any classic  architecture.

"Protect your iPhone," we were warned of theft, but  as we went among the crowds we noticed that everyone was using or carrying their own (and mostly more up to date versions than mine) wireless phones. The younger crowd appear to be as addicted to their digital devices as our own.  In fact, more often than not, our pictures were taken with phones than old fashioned cameras.  This occurred mostly at tourist spots where we no doubt appeared strange to people from China's interior region who were unfamiliar with westerners. The more cosmopolitan crowd ignored us.

Everywhere the Chinese were wearing Levi's, Nikes, and tees with English slogans/trademarks. We are truly living in a world culture when you can't tell the natives from the tourists. Which is on point since the Chinese tourist industry appears to be booming.  I imagine their floating tourist population is on par with our own as they visit significant sites from their own thousand years history.

One word about the food.  Three meals a day with at least twelve delicious dishes each and never a repeat (except for the rice, beer and Sprite/Cola) and every dish a delight. Chicken and pork predominated and only once did I find a beef selection. Not a one resembled American "Chinese food."

There were so many story ideas at every turn and the inability to sleep has given me ample time to mentally compose at least two short stories and one more complex piece. Now all I need to do is find the energy to write them.

When I recover, that is.


Monday, August 28, 2017


One of the problems of being a conscientious writer is that I never know when to leave things alone. The old saying that "better" is the enemy of "good enough" seems to apply to drafts as well as practically everything else.   Sadly, I seem to have a serious case of revisionitis.

In my previous post I went on and on about my methodical approach to producing a decent draft ms. Immediately after writing that I created  new epiphany/denouement scenes  and pronounced the piece finally, finally, FINALLY complete. Then, that night I awoke with a new bit I had to insert to improve a scene. Naturally, the ripple effect then proceeded to slightly change related scenes and, not surprisingly made me think of other changes and "improvements."

So, here it is two days after the last of the ripples died down to wash against the smooth sands of the story no more. On what must have been the hundredth re-read of the draft* I realized how little those last minute ideas had influenced the basic story.  They were  mere glosses on the narrative, necessary only because they painted a more complete picture of a character or the background scenery. Had this been a fantasy story the glosses would have overwhelmed the bare bones of the tale, which is why those picaresque stores tend to result in thick novels and not short stories.

Don't get me wrong, I enjoy writing an expansive background to reveal social behaviors, an alien planet, or beliefs far different from my own.  I did this in my latest published novella in Analog, a prequel to my VIXEN novel.  But for the piece I am/have been working on, such ormolu turned out to be, on reflection, unnecessary. I need to learn better to offer only enough wordage  to sketch in the broad details and let the reader color between the lines with their own (and probably richer) imagination.  With all that in mind this piece gets sent later this week after I make a few more adjustments.

I'm sure they won't affect anything.

*In print because I can't depend on my lying
 eyes to spot all my typos and misspelled words.


Monday, August 21, 2017

Jigsaw Puzzle

Generally I am a sporadic writer and a constant pessimist regarding the progression of a story's development.  I tend to compose a story sequentially, the writer's hand gliding forward through the story's events until a beginning, middle, and end are written.  My first draft is always a mess whose scenes jump about  without unity, whose characters are unfocused in motivations and goals, and whatever concept drives the "plot" will be observable only to the most discerning of readers.  Research (aka watching cat videos) is a time consuming part of this development.

My second draft is slightly better, and usually longer as I spackle words over the obvious cracks in a ham-handed attempt to achieve clarity. Characters become somewhat more defined, and elements of plot begin to emerge as I begin to understand what I've created.  This draft is still a mess, but one with acceptable spelling and punctuation. Research is more focused and only infrequently falls into the Internet's cat holes.

My third draft is where murder  most foul occurs.  Thanks to my readers' group, who mercilessly butcher my offering, I realize which scenes are unnecessary and which are mere filler to achieve word count targets and put them aside. I am sometimes advised to combine characters' quirks to reduce reader confusion and thereby reduce the story's body count.  Much bloody ink is spilled in this process diluted by gallons of cold coffee and assorted curses.

In the darkness of my writer's hovel I continue to refine a fourth, and, hopefully final  draft. The plot becomes more evident as I focus on its impact on each character and, oh yes, throw a few more parts of the story off the sled as the wolves of self-imposed deadlines approach.  The draft is still a mess - accurate in its progression but boring as hell. Sadly, I commit myself to another round of edits and rewrites for what I promise will be my final draft. I've used the bathroom considerably more on this version.

My fifth draft is where I assemble the pieces of my jigsaw puzzle. My first task is to focus each scene into as near perfect form as possible, even if it means rewriting or cutting and pasting portions between scenes.  Each scene needs to be refined into more explicit emotional, explicative, confusing, and humorous, forms.  I constantly fight the tendency to add the dreaded expositional narrative that is ever the bane of SF writers.  In the end, my draft exists as a virtual deck of scene cards that I can move about.  It is still dull as hell but finally almost a story.

Editing the sixth and (hopefully) penultimate draft is when I begin to doubt my ability to write. I start to doubt that this piece will ever see publication. I pick it up, read it, and disgusted, stick it out of sight, out of mind.   Nevertheless, it festers in my subconscious. Guilt finally forces me to confront it with fresh eyes and look at the story as if it were a piece of music - John  Cage for sure, but music nevertheless.  I deal out my scene cards and compose the final-final draft by arranging scenes into a more dramatic presentation.   I place serious scenes beside others containing a riff of humor, offsetting that humor with pathos, or forcing the unfortunately necessary exposition bits into places where they won't harm the flow.

The rhythm of the piece begins to take shape through the magic of foreshadow and back story until it crescendoes into a blazing finale that I usually slap together to replace the one that looked so perfectly right before the rearrangement.  Unlike my original version, I write this finale with a complete understanding of the stories' content.

Editing the final, final, God-damn it FINAL draft consists of housekeeping - title, by line, formatting, page numbering, and whatever font selection might please the editor.  Those done the ms flies through the magic of electrons to whatever editorial catch basin I select.

Leaving only the agonizing wait for a reply.

* I know I've subtly hinted at this before in earlier posts.


Sunday, August 13, 2017


Once again I am stalled, at a standstill, bereft of ambition, without energy, and otherwise lack the willingness to write a single word on my many, many WIPs.  This has happened before (witness my earlier posts) so I know I will eventually recover from this condition.  It isn't Writer's Block,which shuts down the creative engine, that afflicts me.  Lord knows I can still pound out glowing sentences had I the spirit to do so.  Nor is it a lack of ideas: I've never been without for more than a few days, some of which have eventually turned into a story. No, this just seems like I lack the driving energy to produce anything important .*

I wonder how many other writers have periods like this?  Do they stew over their lack of progress or choose to work on equally challenging, non-writing activities? Do they read the stories of better writers, of which there are too many, or drink themselves into oblivion, sometimes with alcohol, but more frequently coffee, while they stare at the blank white screen?

It's not that I haven't been productive.  My collection of favorite stories I have written in the last decade came out in April.  I have two stories awaiting publication at Analog and have submitted two more that I am confident will be accepted.  I've just had my story "Yesterday's Solutions" published on the X-Prize contest site. A reprint of my short-short story "Delivery" appears in the recent "Stories for the Throne" anthology, and I've got a Shardie novel coming out in the fall.

So why am I experiencing an overwhelming feeling of ennui; a disinterest in producing yet another page or two? Am I burning out? Is it a fear that continuing to produce stories will confirm my inadequacy as a writer? Is it doubt in my own ability to write something worth reading? Or is it the certain  knowledge that I live with all the time that nobody really gives a damn about me or my stories?

Are these the reasons I lack the energy to hammer away at the writing anvil?

* Turning 80 does that to a man


Monday, August 7, 2017

Tugging the Lose Thread

The Law of Cascading Consequences states that you cannot make a simple change in a story once you've begun writing the draft.  As the story acquires words, thoughts, and scenes the smallest, least significant change will affect your entire story. Tugging at a story's tiny bothersome thread sometimes unravels the writer's initial conception.

Most writers begin with a somewhat formed idea of what they want to accomplish before they type that first word of a draft.  The writer might believe they are in control of their characters, settings, and time frames.  They also sort of know the core of what they want the piece to express as they type, type, type in an effort to reach that end and, before they know it they have a sizable chunk of text.

As they edit the first draft (which is the beginning of the second) they decide to alter the text and, taking the metaphoric pen in hand, make a small, change, only to discover as they continue to edit, that change has cascaded and requires further "adjustments."  For example, a change to a single character's response to an event early in the story colors subsequent appearances of that character because that small change requires that there be an underlying reason for their response. This can easily be handled by scribbling a line or two.

But that explanation alters the character's personality and, accordingly, affects every character that observed their response. Depending on their reaction their depiction too must change and,suddenly, without intending it, the second draft takes on an entirely different color and you realize that your well written second draft needs more revision and, in the process the writers realizes that wonderful scene they sweated blood and tears to get "right" in the initial draft has become irrelevant.

Slight changes continue to occur during the many, many attempts at achieving a "clean" draft and  each has a similar compounding effect.  Although this seems frustrating, it is a necessary part of the creative process as the writer sharpens their vision.

The cascading consequences of changes in subsequent drafts can be increasingly devastating especially when necessary in the penultimate draft (which was amusingly thought might be the final one.) This causes the writer to question why they even started writing their tangled prose and wonder at their ability to write coherently.

Not that this ever happens to me.


Sunday, July 30, 2017


Next weekend (August 4-6) I will be at Confluence near the Pittsburgh airport spouting crap about science fiction, indoctrinating young minds in the wisdom of joining SFWA,  and renewing contact with my avid fan fans. I'll also be signing and hawking books to help pay for gas*

Since I first discovered confluence back in 1998, when I was invited by a group of Pittsburghians at the Baltimore WorldCon, I've became a more or less a regular attendee.  The first pleasant surprise when I first arrived was discovering the con's focus on reading and the dearth of media, games, or costumes present. The second thing that amazed me was the volume of books being sold in the dealers' room.

Sadly the book-selling performance in the dealers' room has been declining for several years.  At every con fans are walking around with faces glued to the tiny screens of their phones and talking about the latest eNovel they've bought from Amazon or some bulk download service. Printed books, be they anthologies or novels seem to appeal only to those who want them as trophies or as a means of getting an autograph from a favorite author.  The extreme example of this was Ad Astra, the
SFWA Cookbook.  The cookbook is a collection of recipes from SF and Fantasy writers [Full disclosure: my recipe is included as the very last recipe even though it was the first one submitted**] which has achieved success more as an autograph book than a kitchen tool.  It's also sold in eformat, but where's the fun of that?

Perhaps this transition is a consequence of technological progress or the preferences of the millennials, but that trend has sadly allowed more games and whiz-bang-crash media to catch fans eyeballs and take attention away from the printed word.  It's a trend I deplore, but accept as an old and crotchety writer.

I hope to see you there and, if I do, please mention reading this blog post even if it is electronic

* Writing is not a path to great wealth, far from it
**It 'is written as a  fantasy trope            


Saturday, July 22, 2017


The writing life, especially for me is hard, my mood ranging from depression to elation in a matter of days and, occasionally, hours.  Just a week ago I was at sea about where the WIP was going or even if  it was going anywhere at all and today I find myself roaring along at the three quarters of the way through the projected plot with the path clearly before me.

I cannot explain when my subconscious climbed the mountain and received its revelation.  I awoke a few days after writing about the difficulties I faced with no tablets in my arms, no memories of a visitation, and certainly no hastily and undecipherable bedside note that would be a guidepost.  No, I once more faced a scene's blank screen and struggled to compose a first sentence, not expecting to move the story any further along.

Strangely, as I typed that first word, more began to form and one sentence after another was completed; stitching together a few plot points that I'd left dangling and granting a hitherto-fore dull spear carrier with a touch of personality. With a clarity that I'd thought I had lost, the entire sequence of how the plot would unfold became obvious.  Not only could I complete the current scene but I saw where it would connect to the  next and onward to the elusive epiphany.

But that would only complete a first draft.  From there I will move scenes around to make the sequence appear more natural if not sequential* order, repurpose dialogue, impute motives, and toss away much of the difficult parts I sweated into reality. Later edits, in say the fourth or fifth draft, I will correct grammar, spelling, and punctuation.  During each successive draft I'll probably have second or third thoughts on some things and rewrite, only to regret it later and bring back the first version or maybe write a few different lines instead. Trying to nail down what the final, final draft will become is like trying to determine the plot's velocity and position at the same time or determine what the condition of the contents will have when the box is finally opened and a manuscript is submitted: An impossible task.

On reflection, I am probably doomed to continue to bumble along, typing words that MAY turn into something I can send to an editor.

P.S. I am now reconsidering the underlying premise.

* ALL of my first drafts are initially sequential


Sunday, July 16, 2017

The Depths of Despair

I'm a short story writer (see my recent Non-Parallel Universes) but I do occasionally venture into longer works which usually and sadly end up as e-books, hardly ever to be read. Success at the long form has evaded me and every time I venture into that world I run into the same misgivings.

All my stories start out to be short - a few words initially, but in the process of writing, connections begin to form, linkages occur between events and/or characters and scenes, all of which require additional wordage and, less frequently but inevitably, the dreaded exposition! Unlike other literary forms, Science Fiction writers always need to explain things to those ignorant of the technology that (may) form the core of the tale.   The "As you know, Bob," sort of dialogue is just one horrible an repeated example.

But I deviate. My intended short stories often grow beyond my original intent by becoming more complex (or complicated - its awkward little sister) or by the sudden spontaneous generation of additional characters who confuse the tale by infusing combinations of complications AND complexities.

All of this results in my humble tale breaking the 7,500 word barrier, which is when I realize horribly that the plot still has considerable ground to cover before it can resolve. That's all right, I tell myself: a novelette is a perfectly reasonable length if the story merits it.  So, I push on, pounding words on my writing anvil, tempering sentences into glistening chains of narrative, and binding paragraphs into cogent scene frames.  Life is good. I assure myself that this may not be the masterpiece I intended, but will certainly be marketable.

Shortly after I hit the wall of self-doubt.  My inspired writng now appears on rereading little more than scribbled attempts to  make my characters strut and fret their brief time in scenes that seem to add little moment in the overall plot.  I also realize that one of my characters is crafted of tissue and too weak to carry the plot load I've designed.  Another semi-protagonist has no moral core and seems to often act without justification and suffers no consequences.  On and on it goes, the puerile scenes seem to be empty of meaning, the landscape descriptions a mush of ill-conceived scenery, and everyone's  motivations all are weaker than the promise of a cat's affection.

This is the point where I start to wonder if I will ever complete the tale.  The choices churn inside my writer's brain: Which is the proper path for the plot to take, who should lead the charge, and what is the point of spending so many words to reach this point without promising some reward, a debt that I MUST deliver to the reader for investing their time and energy?  The weight of that obligation weighs heavily on me, so burdensome that I cannot think clearly or type another word before I find the answers those pesky questions. I despair that I've invested so much and see no way forward and question whether I should continue to push ahead, hoping that somehow I will be able to shape the mess I've created into something barely adequate or just consign this unfinished tale to the trunk and scribble something better (and shorter?)  Do I have the energy and time to waste on a complete first draft, let alone muster the energy needed to do the revisions for the second or succeeding drafts?  But the story still needs to be told, the plot rescued from its confusion, and the antagonist vanquished.

That's what a writer does.


Saturday, June 24, 2017


Years ago someone asked in a panel discussion;"Where do you get your ideas?" to which I replied that there was a man in NJ who sent me a postcard of ideas each month for a few bucks.  Afterward several of the audience asked for his address*....  Such is the desperation of the idea-poor whose desire to have written often exceeds their common sense.

When I began writing I had too many ideas and, honestly, most of my ambitious concepts were beyond my fledgling ability to write competently, although that did not stop me from doing so, submitting them, or stem the tsunami of rejections that resulted.  Eventually, I began to reduce the scope of my ideas to match my ability and produced some decent short stories. This did not unfortunately stop me from having ambitious ideas, so for years I maintained a file of story ideas and prompts in hopes that one might be interesting enough to write.

Few of these ideas ever managed to encourage me to write the stories, but those that did kept coming back, time and again, until I could no longer ignore their cries.  I often wrote just to get them out of my head and, of these, a few were published. Many more of my ideas remained too ambitious to be completed and languish still in the file. Someday, I promise myself, I will finish them.

Some day.

Other ideas arise from reading magazine articles, newspapers, or someone else's story.  A few come from chance conversations at conventions or overheard remarks. One was scribbled between panels on the back of a program book so I would not forget it.  Sadly, the note made no sense when I later read it, much like the scribbled notes of half-remembered dreams.  For me, dreams seldom ignite a spark, although they seem to be a source of inspiration for others.

Rarely do ideas come from editors and, of those that do, are mostly for themed anthologies where an external prompt is provided to inspire the story and whose length, scope, and deadline constrain the story possibilities.

 So the true answer to the question of where ideas come from is "everywhere."

* This was a lie: There 
is no such place as NJ.


Saturday, June 10, 2017


As most of you know I am the SFWA CFO,  job few want and even fewer care about.  Nevertheless that makes me a member of the SFWA Board who are fucking desperate to get a grip on SFWA's membership demographics and wishes.  This is part of a multi-pronged effort to align SFWA's operations and policies with the problems facing all writers in this emerging chaos of writing and publishing where no one not only grasps where the changes are taking us nor understands how to survive, given the tiny rewards from the e-publishing industry and the declining number of pro magazines.

Recently SFWA created a survey form that now resides in your in-box that attempts to gather such data as we move forward.  Filling out this form gives you, the writer, a voice in how SFWA is governed, the policies that are written or modified, and the actions necessary to improve the lot of all of us.


Historically response to anything having to do with SFWA has been poor; few people recommend stories for the Nebula Award, fewer yet vote for the final awardees, and only controversy seems to impel members to become involved.  I've often joked that were SFWA to have a survey on apathy we'd only get a 16% response - which coincidentally is about the same response we get on recommendations or awards.



Saturday, June 3, 2017

Shop Talk

I came to the realization at BaltiCon that writers at conventions talk a lot. A whole lot.  They babble on and on as they sit on panels.  They gabble in the con suite.  They converse in the Green Room.  And, whenever they meet in the hallways between panels or while wandering aimlessly in the dealers' room(s) or art gallery they talk, talk, talk. It's very much like the evening congregation of crows squawking their  presence to each other as if the flags on their badges were not sufficient evidence  of their existence in this time and place.

Sometimes liquor is involved and always, food!

I used to attend business conferences and, inevitably, there would be a gathering of like-minded souls in the bar exchanging friendly insults, observations, occasionally politics, and always focusing attractive people who were also attending but never among your group.  Sometimes the conversation would veer into business-land for a few moments, or turn to the subject of the conference.  Hardly ever would there be discussions of hobbies, pastimes, or family. Certainly no one mentioned being blocked, or feelings of alienation, or having fits of intense creativity.  Self-doubt was NEVER mentioned although Imposter Syndrome was laughingly referred as a small bother at times.

And yes, sometimes liquor was involved and always, food!

So what do the authors discuss you may ask?  Well, we talk about where the green, party, and con suite rooms are located, what panels we're on, and where the most convenient rest rooms are located. Seldom is there serious discussion of our current undertakings or the craft of writing.   Contracts are seldom discussed but opportunities frequent populate the conversation.  We talk about who is writing what, gossip about the industry (altho this had diminished enormously with the ubiquity of Facebook, Twitter, and similar social time wasters), and commiserate with one another on the cruelty of editors and slow payments from publishers.  In other words, writers at conventions have much in common with shoe salesmen, accountants, or engineers.

Including the liquor and food.

The one thing that differentiates writers is that occasional spark that ignites the what-if-ness within each writers' soul and flares into an intense conversational conflagration of ideas, concepts, and suppositions that everyone involved is eager to steal adapt to their own uses. The ad hoc discussion that might encompass this (and other) universe(s), each person contributing to the  crowd's mix that is altered as the participants churn like a pot of stew.

It is for being a part of these impromptu  conversations that I am willing to put up with the craziness and chaos surrounding every convention. Yeah, that and the adulation of adoring fans.

As if!


Saturday, May 13, 2017

The Curse of the Galley

It takes hours of Herculean effort to finally get a story polished to the point that some kind editor finds it acceptable enough to respond with a contract.  That response indicates that the work was not, like so many, a failure and doomed to sit in the darkness of a trunk forever.  The response alone is ample reward for what was clearly a well-composed, structured gem of the genre.  Pat on the back, cheers, and dancing follows before the writer must return to the electronic anvil and pound out the next speculative masterpiece as the pleasant glow of success continues.

That is, until the galleys arrive.

You read through them and are devastated. Clearly whoever prepared the galleys screwed up the sentence structure, substituted inappropriate words in some places, misspelled others, and clearly randomly missed the stellar punctuation.  You experience feelings of being violated, abused, and hurt that some ignorant lackey could so interfere with an obviously well-crafted story.  With rightful indignation you vow to go through the galleys mistake by agonizing mistake against the clean submitted manuscript and reveal what that unskilled fool had done.  The harsh words of a cover letter are forming as you proceed to the first error.

Hmmm, the galley seems to agree with the submission.  All right, so maybe you made that minor mistake,   You correct it and move on.  At the second error you feel shame that you had so poorly chosen that word, when another would be so much better.  You concede the point and correct that as well.  Later and you blush that you structured a sentence so badly and scribble a better phrasing in the (virtual) margin.

And so it goes, page after page of correcting what you realize with growing horror were your own damn mistakes!  The galley bleeds from wounds inflicted by your red pen as you try to undo the damage and bring the story to perfection you require.  There was no abusive copy editor: You have been the perpetrator of these mistakes.  The red ink makes clear where the necessary changes are needed, except in the process of corrections even better phrasing occurs.

Finally you return the much edited galleys, satisfied that you have avoided embarassment and polished the submission to gleaming perfection.  Only to realize moments later that there were a few more things you should have done.....

Is a story ever finished?


Saturday, May 6, 2017


Every writer eventually comes to the point where they question whether to follow the arc of their writing career or to find something equally fascinating and interesting elsewhere.  Perhaps this angst occurs when you find that you just can't write another crappy scene/story/novel like the (mostly unsold) hundreds you've struggled with before. Or maybe it happens because you discover that you just can't muster the elegance and sophistication others seem to achieve without effort. Maybe it's because you want to add depth to your project but have not yet developed the skill and/or emotional intelligence to pull it off.  Could it be because you are simply tired of sitting for day after day trying to get something done or editing your earlier crap drafts into the crystalline clarity readers demand?

Well, join the crowd.  Your angst is the curse of being literate in a world that places little value on the effort involved to produce a cogent contribution to literature.Yours are no different from the difficulties of millions of us who daily struggle with the challenge of sculpturing raw words into elaborate stories that resonate with readers.  The great majority, regardless of how much they struggle, will not succeed in ever publishing their work or gaining recognition. Those so discouraged may decide to consign their efforts to the trash, unread and unmourned. Alongside the trail of literature are the remains of the many who wanted their words to inform the world but only saw their creations die unrealized.

Despite the many setbacks there nevertheless is that burning desire of every nascent author to express their personal view of the world as it should or could be, or discourse on another's view. There is a long line of literature stretching back thousands of years that speak to the human condition, to dreams, and aspirations, all of which beg commentary through whatever glass the writer wishes to use.  It matters little how successful you become so long as you continually perfect your craft, hone your sense of structure, and continually craft more interesting stories.

In the end, the only audience that counts is yourself.


Monday, May 1, 2017


By the time I publish this RavenCon will be over and done and I will be exhausted.  Too many panels*, too many friends, and too little time for a decent conversation, which, in all honesty, is what a convention is all about. If I missed anyone let me apologize for the oversight.

Put out two short stories last week, both of which had passed peer review of my writing group before submission and one that the editor asked me to rewrite.  A good week which left little time to start another until this week; the week when you are probably reading this meandering prose.  I feel like a time-traveller in that I'm probably getting my tenses mixed up between the now of writing and the whenever you are reading this, which might not be for weeks after I put it up, making my opening paragraph inaccurate in the extreme. Maybe I should use future-intentional verbs: declarational (implying  intent), assumptive (implying that it will definitely have happened), or rhetoricalish (in the sense that it probably won't happen at all, but it's just being mentioned for effect.)

So, I'm on an imposter panel, which will probably devolve into agonizing soul searching about why everyone wants to piss on you, a submissions panel in the last hour of the last day probably be attended by those with hangovers that just want a quiet place to sleep,  a reading where I hope someone other than a relative is present, then a couple on exposition and MilSF in which someone will inevitably argue the virtues of a Glock .223mm versus the Walther P38 or some similar argument about future weapons a la STAR WHATEVER's.**

Great fun!

By Monday I will be exhausted.

*Well, I did ask for them
**Most of these did not  come
to pass, thank heavens!

Monday, April 24, 2017

That Damn Dark Presence

I must have hit a nerve: three separate conventions have placed me on an Imposter Panel.  I guess they want to exhibit me as a sample case since my self-esteem, as far as writing ability, is so pathetically low.*

For those of you who have not experienced this affliction, let me explain. Imposter Syndrome is a curse that, in its simplest form, is the belief that everyone will eventually discover that you are not that deserving of whatever status you've earned.  You daily fear that when (not if) you are eventually exposed your reputation will be destroyed forever.  They do not see the panic, sweat, concerns, and mistakes that haunt your early drafts and that it is only through sheer luck you are finally able to produce a readable page.  Every completed submission is followed by days, weeks, and months of nibbling doubt. Even after something is accepted you fear the copy editor's blue pencil for it is they who clearly see how poor are your compositional skills.

The imposter syndrome is always present, a looming menacing presence standing behind you as you struggle with your muse, It is a presence that soundlessly screams that if only you had a modicum of appreciation for English you would not produce the dribble of meaningless crud that only wastes electrons. "You will never be able to improve this draft" the presence shouts as you struggle with each hard-fought sentence. straining for a better way of expressing it.

The imposter syndrome is also present when you meet a writer who appears to effortlessly spin gold from dross, never choosing the wrong word or composing a bad sentence, never struggling with the effort to bring life to cold words.  They often declare that everything they produce is perfect on the first draft.  But if you get real close you will recognize the dark presence lurking over their shoulder and the fear that their failure may too be eventually discovered.

Imposter Syndrome is what drives us to continually improve and grow.

*I may have mentioned 
this a time or two


Sunday, April 16, 2017

Writing as a Career Choice

Last year I was on a "So you want to be a Writer" panel.  Most of the large audience indicated that they aspired to become published writers. Among them were a few bright young things who declared that they wanted to support themselves by writing full time. This is a nice dream and one that an infinitesimally small percentage of writers achieve, and usually only after years of struggle to develop the necessary skills.*

So the panelists gave them the practical advice that it would not be a good idea to plan on a lucrativ writing career.  The economics of a writing life are brutal:  If you want to earn enough to get out of poverty (i.e. At least $24,950) so you can get out of the basement** you have to write a lot of words!  The market for short stories (100-40,000 words) pays nothing at all to a magnificent $0.08/word in genre magazines. You would have to sell (there's the rub) 300,000 words each year. Given that the average magazine short story is around 5,000 words, you'd have to write and sell sixty-five stories, enough to fill seven paying magazines! The chances of editors accepting that many from a single writer are negligible so you will be doomed to stay obscenely productive in the basement or, alternatively, trying to make your spouse understand that you have no time to clean the house, fix dinner, or have kids.

So, instead of struggling with the workload of short story production, what if you wrote enough novels to stay above the poverty line? The average published novel is about 100,000 words. If you are an exceptional writer you might get by with only writing three drafts or 300,000 words - which is equivalent to sixty-five short stories (see above.)  That novel will sell (HA!) for perhaps $12.00 a copy for which you will get about $1.50,  This means that the novel must sell over seventeen thousand copies for you to reach the poverty level. Further, to maintain that minimum income you must produce a novel year over year without fail and to a major publisher.  Don't even consider self publishing via ebooks or small press; their royalties might be better, but their sales numbers are worse. You might do better than average if you have a large family but otherwise it's a crap shoot to reach that minimum of seventeen thousand copies sold.

Regardless of distribution methods you must understand that all seventeen thousand copies won't sell immediately.  This means that you'd better produce a string of novels whose total sales are at least seventeen thousand copies a year. Not impossible, but definitely a low probability outcome for the amount of work involved.

The advice I gave the I-want-to- be-a- writer audience was this: Get a decent day job that pays the bills you'll have after moving out of the basement, find someone who loves you despite your compulsive addiction to the written word, and set aside a time and place for your writing.  It's a big exciting world.

There are better things to do.

*Also living in their parent's basement 
**Definitely NOT a metaphor                                         


Monday, March 27, 2017

Lessons Learned

Nothing humbles me more than  editing a piece long laid aside and discovering all the mistakes that went unnoticed.  Now, I'm not talking about spelling or grammar, plot sequencing, or sentence constructions. All of those were* corrected in the fifth or sixth draft and verified in the final pre-submission  read-through, you know, when optimism rides high and I have not yet realized I have not done that final change that I think of seconds after hitting the submit button. C'est la vie I happily shrug; I can correct that in the galleys, that is, if and when they arrive.**

What humbles me is the discovery that the very sequencing of sentences, their style and length is often wrong.  For example, my action scenes should not contain lengthy descriptions or flowery adjectives. Reflections on previous actions, the dialectic of political differences, or the philosophy of western vs eastern  moral consequences somewhat detracts from whether the antagonist is going to chop my protagonist's damn head off with his sword.  The action scene should contain short, descriptive bursts of language that encapsulate the events underway. At the same time a series of short sentences can become tiresome so I have to throw in a few longer ones to break the flow. I think of it as taking a breath before plunging ahead, sort of like a mental comma.

On the other hand I discover that long descriptions of settings helps draw the reader into the story while short, abrupt sentences cheat the reader's imagination (and probably make them suspect my world-building skills) while longer, more carefully drawn descriptions might feed their hunger.

So I chop away at the dreary text, cut narrative to the essentials, and lovingly touch on the stage settings and interesting backdrop, all with an eye to improving the story for another submission

**and I remember 


Monday, March 20, 2017


I listen to Freakonomics on NPR and am never disappointed. This week they spoke about perceptions of one's situation and how we too often complain about the headwinds and seldom consider the wind behind our back (or beneath our wings as it were.)

I've complained bitterly in this blog about the miserable the life of the short fiction writer, the lack of income, the delay in seeing print, and the difficulty of creating yet another masterpiece* I've also railed about how trying it is to change my style, and always failing.  It seems that in this field there is a constant wind ever resisting my progress.

But then I look on what I have managed to accomplish over the years, the few stories that managed to  rise about my ability and actually touch someone.  I think about the editors who helped along the way, the rich environment in which I chose to participate, and the wonderful advent of electronic tools for creation, submission, and [tbd].

This is a wonderful playground for writers, filled with those willing to extend a helping hand, welcoming newcomers into conversations, and freely giving information that facilitate reaching an editor, a market segment, or a new venue.  Attendees at conventions are wonderful, filling the chairs at panels, providing feedback, and letting writers talk about whatever they damn well please despite the subject. These ate the sustaining winds ever at my back; stronger winds than ever held me back.

And for that I am eternally grateful.


Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The Long Wait

I don't understand how novelists do it. Imagine taking a few YEARS to write something, hone it to near perfection, and producing a finished draft to be submitted to an editor.  Short story writers differ from novelist only by word count and disposition. The pace of their submissions must be greater and they face the inevitable self-doubt of speed.  You* usually wish you could retract it one microsecond after it leaves your desk because there is always something that MUST be changed. But it is too late.  You can only wait until the rejection comes.

So you wait.

 Editors get  LOT of submissions from agents and random unknowns like you.  Although most of these pitiful pieces are unsuitable, unwanted, or just crap, they still must be read enough to justify a discard.  That takes time and, if you aren't a current darling, it might take months for the editor to get to your gem.

So you wait.

 And wait some more because your submission is the 1,256th piece the editor has to look at this month. You wait for the editor to quickly work their way through the poorly written and infantile plots of the pieces preceding your submission.

So you wait as the date of the expected rejection passes.

Could the delay mean an acceptance is forthcoming?  What if your submission has been set aside pending something better?  OMG, what if it has been lost?  Perhaps waiting a bit more might resolve the issue.

Months pass and the damn cat is still in the submission box.

Meanwhile you produce yet another piece or two realizing that you are no more than a field hand being paid by the bagful for the fruits of your labor.

Whether the metaphoric cat is dead or alive matters not. Waiting is part of a writer's life.  Regardless of whether you write long or short, there is little that you can do until the cat leaps out or the box begins to smell.

You write!

*And by this I mean I.


Monday, March 6, 2017

Euphoria......and then

There is a certain sense of exhilaration  that comes from correcting the last mistake, dotting the final period, or changing "just a little bit of...." and shoving the piece out the (virtual) door.  Doing so rings a note of finality that, despite all odds, setbacks, trials, and tribulations you have finally completed the Herculean task of writing the complete, perfect story.  The stable is now clean.  It is a wonderful time.

Regardless of whether it is a short story or a bloated novel the accomplishment is something to be celebrated.  Now, you swear, you can get onto something else and, by damn, you WILL NOT make the same stupid mistakes that made you do all those rewrites, edits, and changes as you did on the just completed manuscript. Bravely you go forward, writing like a fiend, piling up pages of creative narrative that will not doubt achieve Nebula status and.....

Oh crap!  I discover that you've written myself into a corner, but maybe if you make a tiny change back there on paragraph three... But that means  have to rewrite pages 5-10 and probably change the focus or....Why did I start THERE?  No, no, the story actually starts on page six, which means you need to throw out the first five pages and..  Gott in Himmel, that changes the entire story arc, but no problem..

And so it goes, one manuscript after another. You suddenly feel that you  may never learn from your mastakes. You are doomed to haunt the halls of futility heavily bearing the chain of inadequacy on your shoulders while ever searching for the perfect word, the perfect sentence, and the cogent paragraph and correcting spelling, punctuation, and grammar along the way.  But maybe this time, on the tenth edit this one might eventually be finished.

Or abandoned.


Monday, February 13, 2017

Novels vs Short Stories

I' may be a strategic plotter but I am a tactical pantser; that is, I generally lay out a general idea of how a story should evolve and then, working at scene level, just blast out whatever the muse demands, knowing that any errors will be caught in subsequent painstaking rewrites/edits.  I edit at the strategic level, moving whole scenes about or alerting the plot in non-significant ways (this ofter requires even more tactical adjustments at the scene level.)  I rewrite at the scene level, usually by line edits where the turn of word dominates.  That all sounds so clinical and cold but I can assure you that the execution is emotional and messy as hell.

Writing is always a struggle to find the right word, sentence, or scene.  I usually have to fight my way through mistakes, wrong turns, and confusion.  Throughout the process I am beset with disappointment, frustration, always filled with self-doubt, and continually worryring if the damned muse will suddenly, in the middle of something critical, decide to take a vacation. Nevertheless I plough ahead, often turning over the plot to see what might emerge from the seeds I strategically planted and if they produce a harvest worth the effort.

I often wonder if there might be a single meta-form from which any novel may be generated.  It would have to start by introducing the situation and character, introduce some difficulty that fails to be reconciled, posit possible actions, only to have those fail; one after another. Developing a way to overcome opposition follows, which leads to the actual execution/solution, and dribbles off into a satisfying denouement. Emotional peaks should occur at regular intervals, as does bathos and pathos. Stitching the novel together are the principal characters wandering among interesting scenery with their spear carriers, foibles, biases, and problems.  Emotional/action high points should be punctuated by adjacent calming sections .

Sure, easy to do. Nothing to it; that is if you can come  up with the driving plot, intriguing characters, enticing settings, and enough material to make the entire thing INTERESTING.  Piece of cake.

Which is  why I write short stories.


Sunday, February 5, 2017

Editorial Priviledge

How far should a writer allow their editor to dictate how the final product should appear?  Nothing a writer produces is done without considerable thought and deliberation and, when finished, satisfies the writer that it is complete: The plot is correctly presented, all the principals are as imagined, the settings are appropriate, and the message - the underlying meta story - is clear.

Word choices and sentence structure, not to mention grammar, can always be improved or, if not, modified to meet the market demands that the editor must serve.  Length is optional and can be expanded or reduced to fit the space available.  Plots may be rearranged to improve the story, for dramatic effect, or ease of understanding. The editor might suggest better word choices or delete objectionable items that might affect the story's reception.

Only the most egotistical writer refuses to budge on these necessary technical changes to their work.

Where the relationship between author and editor runs afoul is when the editor insists on altering the plot, changing a character's personality, inserting a message not originally intended, or twist the plot away from the initial concept.  When the editor oversteps their bounds is where the writer must stand their ground, regardless of how desperately they want the tale to be published. To do otherwise is to stifle creativity and violate intellectual integrity.

The negotiation between editor and author tests bounds as the tale goes through the stages of development toward a satisfactory result. There are inevitable conflicts, disagreements, and compromise along the way since egos and professional judgements are involved.  The author might walk away or decide the effort it not worth the hassle.  The editor may similarly quit or simply give up and allow the writer to have their way, regardless of how poor their choice.  But, in more cases than not, the editor and writer compromise, make the necessary changes, and move forward.

This relationship between editor and author is worst is when they are the same person.


Saturday, January 28, 2017

The Organic Tale

A writer is always searching for an organic tale that is complete in itself, compels the writer to spin it as finely as they can, and which, on completion, requires nothing more to be said. The organic tale's narrative grasps the writers imagination and will not release it until the tale has been written.

The best organic tale is a narrative in which neither character, setting, nor plot can be altered without destroying the story.  It is a tale of change that progresses from a state of disequilibrium that suggest possibilities that evolve through elimination into probabilities that eventually yields a resolution revealing how the protagonist or situation has changed. Throughout, the reader (and admittedly, the writer) is ever eager at every stage to discover what happens next.

While the fervor of writing the organic tale is often high at the outset this feeling diminishes as the writing progresses and the possibilities offered dwindle into mere probabilities as choices narrow.  Only when the resolution finally comes into sight does the writer's enthusiasm return.  It is the dreaded middle is where most writers falter, stumble, change their mind, or quit, sometimes for a brief while and worst, forever.  The middle is where doubt creeps in with its tiny claws, or imagination fails, or hours of staring at a demanding screen frustrates any attempt to lay down sentences that make sense.  Only the strongest or most stubborn continues to the bitter end. But mere persistence does not guarantee success.  More often than not persistence simply perpetuates a failed concept beyond the writers ability to handle.

But when the proper narrative presents itself a writer must apply their mind to the task.  The writer may fail on the initial attempt simply because they lack the experience or skill at that time.  Later, after gaining more of each they may return to recast it with a better narrative.

Such is the dream when one starts any narrative.


Saturday, January 14, 2017


One of the things I've noticed at conventions is how writers, reclusive and introverted troglodytes  by nature and choice, suddenly blossom into affable, garrulous speakers, at ease with voicing their uninhibited thoughts before crowds of strangers. I suspect that their smiles and easy social interactions are masking their inner doubts, their uneasiness, and their burning desire to be back in their cosy cave, slaving at an unforgiving anvil, pounding words into proper form, and cursing their elusive and flighty muse.

Or perhaps the boisterous enthusiasm these reclusive writers exhibit on panels is analogous to a diver's decompression, where freedom from the weighty anvil of creation liberates their inner selves  to range freely.  While participating on a panel, a writer faces no deadlines save the panel's fiftieth minute, nor will their words raise the ire of an eagle-eyed copy editor, and whose spoken words are as ephemeral as the words they write.  Here, they can assert doubtful facts, spin tall tales of their literary prowess, and highlight their recent success without fear of immediate contradiction (of course I am not talking about myself.*)  Panels thus become fora for debate, sounding boards for ideas, and platforms of ego that sometimes reveal more about the speaker than they intend, much to the entertainment of the audience.

In private conversations I've learned that many other writers don a mask to be other than they are by nature, donning socially acceptable (by con standards) dress, and forcing themselves to plunge cheerfully into the chaos of panels, readings, signings, and the inevitable hallway/bar conversations.  At the same time they are ever searching for opportunities, discoveries of a new market, or validation of their worth, ever wary for that bit of idle conversation which might, at some future date, be useful in an as yet unwritten tale.

Writers have little choice but to attend conventions when asked and willingly pay the price of a mask in order to engage in intelligent dialogues with fans and other writers.

*Of course not!


Friday, January 6, 2017

Evolution of an Idea

After a hiatus of holiday confusion replete with self-doubts about my ability to write I have finally returned to my writing forge to hammer out some incomplete short stories on the desktop and perhaps work on adding another few words to one of the incomplete novels.

That is, if nothing distracts me.

Usually I  have a more-or-less, vague idea for a story before I type the first word.  Sometimes it is an opening and on other occasions it is an ending. Regardless the final opening or closing changes, influenced by whatever took place between the two. Despite my claims that I am a Plotter I frequently fall into Pantser mode to generate copy.   The two types I mentioned above are the easy stories to write. It is the majority of other story's evolution that bedevil me.

Let me use, as an example, my July1998 Analog story, THE ICE DRAGON'S SONG, which started out as a fanciful recasting of HANS BRINKER AND THE SILVER SKATES, but taking place on Europa - one of Jupiter's moons. That conceit lasted for a few thousand words of an early draft but were mostly rewritten when another possibility intruded because of the nature of Europa and the influence of several of my Jupiter stories that preceded it.  Then the story changed again to the conflicted nature of the teen-aged protagonist's mind when Gene Wolfe asked me a question about the sub-text of the first "dragon" when he heard me reading a partial draft in the hotel lobby.  As a result Freudian symbolism became a central feature of the story's resolution.

That came back to me as I worked on one of my current projects; a story whose premise has changed with each completed scene. Each  change rippled back over new and previous scenes until I had a piss-pot of seemingly unrelated 7,000 words.  While winnowing scenes down to those that appeared to hang together some more possibilities came to mind and... Well, you get the drift.

Further efforts for resolution only invoked more confusion and, finally, I glimpsed a clearer idea of the point I wanted to make. The only problem was that none of the candidate scenes I'd selected could get me there but some of the discarded scenes perhaps could.  Luckily I use Scrivener and still retained those parts so retrieving/reinserting them in the draft was no problem.  Those alterations have taken me to 3,500 words of early draft that I now have to wrestle into something under 7,500 words.  That is, unless my fickle muse presents me with further possibilities and outcomes.

I go through this agonizing process so much that I wonder about how other writer's stories evolve? Are they as tortured with doubt and indecision as they cast words onto the screen?  Do they edit and revise entire chunks of text as they develop their stories, casting aside perfectly good narrative just because it doesn't fit the current project?*  Or do they, like I, modestly protest that I produce final drafts with little effort?

If all fiction writing is this messy and undisciplined it is no wonder so many abandon it rather than perfect their craft, leaving only the persistent and those who do not recognize their own limitations as they fill the slush piles.

*I doubt anything a writer conceives is ever cast aside but is repurposed 
in some other piece further down the line, even if they are unaware of it.