Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Tuesday's Tip for Writers #5 -- Read, Write, Listen, and Learn

If I were the type to make New Year's resolutions, my writing resolutions for '09 would be:

1. Write more fresh material
2. Read more widely
3. Listen to what readers say about the novels they enjoy
4. Learn from items 1, 2, and 3

The past couple years, I let too many activities put the big squeeze on the amount of time I spend working on my own writing. That changes in '09. I'm almost certain that to be considered a writer, one must write.

Reading current best-sellers in or near my chosen genre is very useful, but there are benefits to reading classics outside my genre too. I'm currently reading my first Agatha Christie novels, and seeing how she holds a reader's attention and keeps us involved is a great learning experience, even though I'm not a mystery writer. Good writing applies to any genre.

Knowing your target audience is great, but listening to them is better. My partner, Jack, is my valued first-reader, so I benefit from his impressions of my novels, but he also offers me more. Jack's not only a careful and thorough reader, he's got a knack for pinpointing exactly what he likes about any novel he reads. That's useful information for a writer. An added bonus is that he doesn't read like a writer (you writers out there know what I mean). Jack is part of my target audience, so his impressions are gold, whether they're about my novels or someone else's.

Writing, reading, and listening more are great goals for '09, especially if I actively learn from the experiences. Of course, my writing won't improve if I don't put what I learn into practice, so maybe I need a fifth resolution this year. Er-- I mean-- Maybe I would need a fifth resolution. You know, if I were a resolution-making kind of guy.

I hope you're all resolved to ending '08 safely and having a wonderful '09.

happy new year

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Tuesday Tip for Writers #4 - The Unexpected

Not only am I showing up with a Tuesday's tip on Wednesday, I plucked it from the comment trail over at Everyday Bloggers. In the Getting Unstuck post, comments led to the "dreaded next-scene syndrome," that point in a first draft where writers end a scene and then wonder where do they go from here.

My tip: Do the unexpected. Come up with a surprising plot twist and run with it. This method doesn't always work, but when it does, it can influence and benefit the entire novel.

The unexpected event doesn't have to be HUGE. A body doesn't need to fall out of the sky. A character doesn't need to suddenly drop dead. Don't rule those things out, of course. *smile* But the unexpected element can be as subtle as a character's sudden revelation, either something that occurs to them or something revealed to the reader about them, perhaps something from their childhood that has shaped their adult self. Just be sure it's something the reader--and you, the writer--didn't see coming.

Adding the element of surprise to most any genre novel can be a good thing. Most readers like to be kept on their toes. Most writers too.

Friday, November 28, 2008

My New Look

If you like the new header for this blog, you'll love my freshly redesigned website. The website is at the same address as always,, but if you want the full experience, try out the new flash introduction at

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Visual Aid

The condensed version of STRUCK's opening scene:


Click here to experience the details.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

What makes me show teeth

I'm a smiler. Ask anyone who's met me. I smile easily and often. Sometimes I smile for no apparent reason, which I'm sure can make those around me uncomfortable. I make no apologies. But in pictures, my partner Jack complains I look too serious.

I think he'll like the photo someone sent me today, however. It was taken at the recent SouthWest Writers Awards Banquet. This is what I look like when receiving an award for my novel DARK KNOWLEDGE.

That's Rob Spiegel, President of SouthWest Writers, beside me. I'm not sure how long his smile lasted after this shot. Knowing Rob, it was probably a long time. Rob's a smiler too. But I bet mine lasted longer. Wait a minute. Let me go check...

Yep. Still there.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Tuesday's Tip for Writers #3 - More on POV

I have another point of view related writer's tip to share.

When firmly in a character's point of view, take advantage of being there. Sometimes in the stories or novels I edit, a writer excels at showing the point-of-view character's thoughts as long as the character is alone. But when another character enters the scene and a conversation begins, all internal thoughts stop. The scene can be more effective if the point-of-view character's thoughts continue during the discussion.

I won't go in to more detail about that in this post because I covered this in My Lucky 13 Tips for Dialogue article over at the Murder by 4 blog, but there's a second part to this pov tip.

When firmly in a character's point of view, take advantage by eliminating he felt, she saw, Winfred knew type comments.

Change: He felt pain in his leg.
To: Pain flared in his leg.

Change: Sally saw smoke drifting out of her chimney.
To: Smoke drifted out of her chimney.

Change: Victor heard thunder boom.
To: Thunder boomed.

When we readers are firmly in a character's point of view, we don't need constant reminders it's our point-of-view character who's seeing, hearing, feeling, or thinking. We know who's observing or thinking, and those reminders dampen the immediacy and make the sections feel less active. Look at the subject/verb combinations in the examples above and decide which are more dynamic.

He felt vs. Pain flared
Sally saw vs. Smoke drifted
Victor heard vs. Thunder boomed

Sometimes the point of a sentence is that Mark heard or saw something. Sometimes the rhythm or sentence structure or mood or atmosphere needs to include "Nancy felt." That's fine. You can have a pov character see something happen--there's no "rule" against doing so--but experiment with this small change, see if it makes your sentences more active and immediate. And if, like me, you end up making a bunch of sentences more active and immediate, your whole story becomes more active and immediate. And all this active immediacy comes from using point of view to your advantage.

You just got to love point of view. Well, you don't have to, but I sure do.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Spot the dog

Fall brings memories of Vermont. Ten autumns there, and you'd think I'd have some breathtaking foliage shots to share. I looked. I don't. I guess I was always too awestruck to take pictures. I get that way sometimes. Real life is always better than pictures anyway. At least better than my pictures.

One thing I noticed going through my Vermont photos is how my dog managed to get in so many. Often it was intentional. She was an excellent subject and never worried about which was her good side. And I loved her, so naturally I wanted pictures. But sometimes she just showed up.

Here's the dog, my Nicky, gone now but forever remembered. She's in her glory days here, waiting for me to come play. This shot featured her, obviously. But sometimes...

I'd take a picture of the cabin in sunlight, and there she'd be.

I'd take a picture of the cabin at night, and look who's looking back.

Sometimes she's harder to find than others, which leads me to the title of this post. No, it's not Spot, the dog. It's spot the dog, like a game. Can you?

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Tuesday's Tip for Writers - #2

Point of View

POV is a huge topic. Understanding it and how to use it effectively often frustrates new writers. I know I struggled with POV early on. I found it limiting. Now the limits feel more like opportunities.

My tip on POV starts with understanding it. There are many excellent books on writing, and I bet all of them devote at least one chapter to point of view, so I won't define it here. But ultimately, like so many aspects of writing, fully understanding POV means learning from experience.

Once you understand POV, experiment with it. Choosing a point of view character is one of the big decisions writers face. Okay, if you're writing a first person novel, you only make a POV decision once. You're in one character's head for the duration, and it's a tightly held point of view. And okay, if you're writing in third person, you can make the decision just once if you limit POV to one character. But if you write in third person with multiple points of view, like so many of us do, the POV decision must be addressed with each new scene. Often it's a given: the scene needs to come from the main character's perspective. But if there are two or more characters in a scene who are important enough to have their own point of view scenes in the novel, give POV serious thought. I sometimes rewrite a scene from a different POV to compare. The result can be surprising.

An interesting thing happened in STRUCK. There are multiple storylines playing out in that novel, so I have multiple point of view characters. There's a big, climatic moment at the end of Part 1 where three major point of view characters meet, and the meeting impacts them all in separate ways. I wrote from the protagonist's point of view, and it was a strong scene. But as I mentioned above, I like to experiment. I wrote it two more times from the other two POV characters' perspectives. Those versions were strong too, revealing different things that advanced the story. A scene of this magnitude that includes the protagonist really needs to come from the protagonist's POV, so I couldn't justify using one of the other versions instead of the original. I ended up including them in addition to the original, ending Part 1 with the strongest version, the one from the protagonist's POV.

I like the impact replaying the scene from different POV's added. I was pleased when the trusted writers who critique my novels (I'm lucky to have several) liked the effect too. Then my trusted beta readers (I'm lucky to have several) commented on how they liked it. So there ya go, a well-received dramatic conclusion to Part 1, courtesy of POV experimentation.

Understand, appreciate, enjoy, and experiment with POV. It's a powerful tool for writers, at least that's my point of view.

Friday, October 10, 2008

An October Evening at Home

Then drifting off to sleep

We live an exciting life here in Albuquerque, don't we?

Fall is such a great time. I work hard all day, but then I crave starchy food and sleep more than any other time of year. There's no better way to nap than with a pet, even one that's a little larger than your average lap dog. Okay, a lot larger. Something about a sleeping animal makes me drowsy too. They're just so durn good at relaxing.

As easy as it is to sink into a quiet evening now, come Halloween, the October evening at home scene won't resemble the one pictured. Tasia's quite the guard dog. Little goblins carrying empty pumpkin heads door to door are likely to keep her (and us) energized for hours.

Thinking about it makes me tired, so I think I'll take a nap now to prepare. Let's see...Tasia took one with me last night. Tonight is Tripp's turn.

I see he's got a head start on me.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Remembering Vermonters and Vermont

The past recently caught up with me in a very pleasant way. Two friends in Vermont I hadn't heard from in years got hold of me. What a treat. One sent pictures.

That's Jerry, who sent the pictures; my buddy Dave, who I remain in contact with regularly; Lois, the other friend I had the pleasure of reconnecting with recently; and me. This was in '96, so I was 39.

I loved my decade in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. My novel, ABOVE HALDIS NOTCH, is set there. In fact Haldis Notch in the novel is actually Hazen's Notch, which I could see from my cabin.

Somehow I've soared through this blog without mentioning the log cabin I designed, built, and lived in for a decade in Vermont. Here's a photo of the cabin. I'll be sure to include more photos and mention of Vermont in the future. That's where I started writing and where I wrote my first four novels.

Here's another photo Jerry sent, us at a picnic way back in the summer of '94.

I was about as thin as I get, but I was also in the middle of building that cabin, so I was strong enough to wrestle a bear. At least I felt like I was. I had a chance to test that claim one night as I walked from the site of my half-built cabin to the 1972 fifth wheel camper I called home during construction. The bear I met might have been willing, but I was too tired to wrestle, so we just growled at each other and went our separate ways.

So that's my recent trip down memory lane, thanks to Lois and Jerry and the photos. I like it when the past catches up to me, especially when it's from a part of my life that's full of good memories and great friends.

Monday, September 29, 2008

My Lucky 13 Tips for Dialogue

Today I'm proud to be a guest blogger at a site maintained by four published murder mystery authors. Surf on over to the Murder by 4 blog to read my 13 tips on writing dialogue. Pick any one of them to serve as my Tuesday Tip for Writers this week.

Be sure to browse all the great entries on this blog and bookmark it. It's one of the blogs I routinely visit.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Dark Knowledge Earns Silver

DARK KNOWLEDGE, the novel I describe as Flowers for Algernon with a Dean Koontz twist, placed 2nd in the 2008 SouthWest Writers Contest in the Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror division. The judge was an editor with The Penguin Group, and she had some nice things to say about my submission. I'm a happy man.

My record in contests ain't bad. I've entered four novels over the years and won twice--first place for ABOVE HALDIS NOTCH in '04 and this second place win for DARK KNOWLEDGE.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Tuesday's Tip for Writers - #1

My inaugural Tuesday's Tip for Writers is about dialogue.

TIP #1: People don't routinely address each other by name in conversation. A character may say a name in greeting, to get someone's attention, or to make a point, but it's not natural to keep calling someone by name.

"I see what you mean, Tom."
"Do you? Do you really, Margaret?"
"Tom, would I lie to you?"
"No, I guess not. I didn't mean to question you, Margaret. Forgive me?"

I frequently see this done in the novels and stories I edit, and I think I know why. As long as a character keeps calling the other by name, the author doesn't need to use dialogue tags to make it clear who's speaking. Now I'm all for eliminating unnecessary dialogue tags, but this isn't the way to do it. Sit in a public place and listen. You rarely hear one person address another by name. If your characters do it, it'll ring false to your readers.

This tip is one of 13 in my article "My Lucky 13 Tips for Dialogue." You can read the full article beginning Monday, September 29th, at the Murder by 4 blog. But don't wait until Monday to visit the blog. It's run by 4 murder mystery authors, and it's full of great advice for writers. Visit it anytime and bookmark it. It's updated often.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Friends in Print: Melody Groves

Melody Groves is a celebrated western writer, currently celebrating the release of the second novel in her Colton Brothers saga. SONORAN RAGE follows the release earlier this year of ARIZONA WAR, and there's already a third in the series being readied for publication, BORDER AMBUSH. More are in the works. It's a highly entertaining western series, stories of yesteryear written for today's readers.

In addition to the Colton Brothers series, Melody has a non-fiction book out about Rodeo, and she's working on another non-fiction book about historic bars of the southwest. She also writes for various publications.

When she's not busy writing, Melody is a gunfighter. And if you meet her, be sure to ask her about her experience riding bulls in rodeos. She's almost as interesting as the characters she creates. Check out her website and order a book or two.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Blogs of Note: Cafe of Dreams

There's a book giveaway going on over at the Cafe of Dreams blog for the novel I blogged about a few months ago, DEAD WITNESS by my friend Joylene Nowell Butler. If you haven't already purchased a copy, why not enter to win one? Just visit the Cafe of Dreams blog and leave a comment where indicated before the drawing on September 24th. There's also a review of DEAD WITNESS and an interview with Joylene.

If you miss the September 24th deadline to register for this giveaway, consider visiting the blog for their book reviews and author interviews. They appear to have regular book giveaways too. What a deal.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Me, Music, and MySpace

I spent part of Labor Day weekend messing with my space on MySpace. As expected, I had fun blurbing my upcoming novel and adding images of my novels-in-waiting. What I didn't expect was that I'd have so much fun adding music.

I started with one song for background music. I'd never heard the song before, but it seemed unoffensive. Now there's a fine quality for a song, right? But as unoffensive as it was, I got tired of hearing it while I messed with my profile, so I replaced it with a few songs I wanted to hear, ones that make me turn up the car radio, drum my fingers on the steering wheel, and intentionally miss traffic lights so I don't reach my destination before they end. Hearing those songs triggered memories of other songs I suddenly needed to hear, and I'd go off into the Internet to find them and expand my song list. As of yesterday, I have 24 songs on my playlist. I find myself visiting my profile just to listen to the music, so I imagine I'll add even more soon.

My musical tastes are mired in the past. Many songs on my playlist are from the 80's. Some are older. There are a few more recent selections, but I think only one song is less than a year old. Ah well. These are songs I love.

Do you think the selection of songs on our playlists reveals something about us? If so and you want a peek into my personality or just want to enjoy some great songs (all right, classics), wander over to my MySpace profile at

Happy toetapping.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Horror with Heart

I've taken some time off from writing and editing for a kitchen remodeling project. Today is all about plumbing, and I bet I'll be glad to get back to writing tomorrow.

I continue to be excited over STRUCK. I saw the preliminary cover design the other day, and it blew me away. They have talented folks over there at Regal Crest. I can't wait to splash that cover all over my blog and website.

Marketing is on my mind more now that I have a novel coming out. I used to refer to my novels as horror with heart, but I stopped when people said they had trouble viewing my novels as horror. But horror is a broad genre, and I think my novels fit there. I also like to tug at readers' hearts (in a non-horror way), so horror with heart seems like a good description. Plus, it's catchy.

I'm open to input. Please let me know if you care one way or the other about the term horror with heart.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Bright News for DARK KNOWLEDGE

I'm on a roll. Still dancing over my publishing contract for STRUCK, I just learned DARK KNOWLEDGE placed in a national contest in the Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror Novel category. I won't learn whether it's first, second, or third until Sept. 20th, but I'm a happy man no matter which spot it earned. The judge is an editor from Penguin.

Cartoon me

Helpful hint of the day: Feeling stressed, restless, or just up for a change. Try life as a cartoon.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

STRUCK is streaking your way

Okay, maybe not streaking, but I'm thrilled to announce STRUCK will be available for purchase around July 2009, thanks to the fine people at Regal Crest Press.

It sounds like a long way off, but a year is pretty durn fast in the publishing world. As of this morning I have my very own author page at the Regal Crest website, so I guess this really is happening. I'm proud to be associated with Regal Crest, and I look forward to all the steps in the year ahead that'll lead to me becoming a published author.

I'll post here more often now that I'll have plenty of happenings to write about, so stay tuned. Did I mention I'm thrilled? I did? Well, there it is again in case you missed it the first time.

Sunday, June 29, 2008


Please help me welcome the newest member of our family.

Tasia is a catahoula mix we adopted from the animal shelter two weeks ago.

I don't think those ears are typical of the catahoula breed, but wherever they came from, you just got to love them.

Tasia is 3 or 4 years old, about the same age as Tripp, our Siberian husky. We fell in love with her immediately. To repay us, it took her about ten minutes to decide this was home and another ten minutes to fit in perfectly. An added bonus to having such an easy-going, loving dog join us is that she's the first dog who's willing and able to wrestle with Tripp and chase him around until they're exhausted. Then we relax at the end of a long summer's day. That's the part I like best.

So welcome to the family, Tasia.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Preferable to Death

In an earlier blog post, I referenced a statistic that most people fear public speaking more than death. Bucking that sentiment, I survived my presentation this week at a SouthWest Writers program without once wishing for the grim reaper.

My topic was Novel by Novel: Learning as You Write, and I discussed some of my experiences writing and revising five novels. A few jitters set in the weekend before my program when I saw my name in the Sunday paper, but they didn't last long. I was surprisingly calm during my talk.

Photo courtesy of Lila Anastas

The presentation seemed well received. The audience laughed in all the right spots, remained attentive, and asked great questions. I couldn't have asked for more. In fact, I gladly give the lion's share of credit for a successful night to the audience. SouthWest Writers is made up of folks who support each other and want every speaker to do well. You can feel the positive attitude at each program. I actually enjoyed the experience.

So there's my promised report. I'll conclude by strongly suggesting that if you're ever actually forced to choose between death and public speaking, pick the podium.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Friends in Print: Joylene Nowell Butler

I'm thrilled to see my good friend, Joylene Nowell Butler, now has a book available to the general public. It's called DEAD WITNESS. I've read it twice, but now I have my very own published copy, so you know I'll be devouring it again soon. It's a wonderful thriller about a Canadian housewife named Valerie who witnesses the murder of two FBI agents, does the right thing by testifying, and gets her life destroyed for her trouble. Valerie undergos tremdous personal growth when it falls on her to reclaim her life and protect her family.

Joylene is an incredible writer, and DEAD WITNESS showcases her talents beautifully. To learn a little about Joylene, VISIT HER BLOG. Or jump right in and BUY THE NOVEL. I hope you will. It gets my highest recommendation.

Friday, May 02, 2008


I had a nice surprise today. I found out I won first place in the March SouthWest Writers Monthly Contest, and I have a certificate and $50 to show for it. Yay!

The topic was show, don't tell, and the goal was to write a short scene or story to demonstrate how much more effective it is to show, don't tell. I had never entered before, but I was in juuust the right mood to have some fun writing an entry. And I did have fun. I'm posting my entry here and hoping it gives you a chuckle, too. So without further ado, I give you "Torn."

Part 1 -- The Telling of "Torn"

He was torn. Part of him wanted to continue on to the Land of Riches, but another part longed to stay in the safe haven of familiarity. Dangers lurked everywhere. Leaving his adventurous side behind, he returned home, safe but doomed to a life where he'd never realize the dreams that once drove him. He was but half of who he used to be--the meek half.

Part 2 -- The Showing of "Torn"

The earthworm crawled over sand toward the coffee grounds the human had dumped into the garden. The smell intoxicated, and the morning breeze carried warmth from the steaming grounds that tickled across the earthworm's four-inch back.

"A little further," the head segment said. "We'd be there already if I didn't have to drag you." His words scolded, but the tail kept watch on the human. She still hovered close by, sorting through her garden implements. Couldn't the head sense the danger? Before the tail could sound a warning, a spade tore through the worm's body, slicing it in half.

The head section writhed in pain a moment then continued his journey toward the fresh coffee grounds, making better time without the reluctant tail. The tail raced to the hole from which he'd emerged, but he turned back at the entrance for a final look. The human was gone, but a sparrow had landed in the garden at the edge of the coffee grounds. The worm's head section--still a foot from his goal--gasped and dug into the soil to escape, but the sparrow's beak plucked him from the ground. The head struggled and cried out before being gulped down.

The tail section sighed and entered the hole, already aware he'd never try to make it to the Land of Riches again. What need did he have for coffee grounds now? His mouth was in the section the bird swallowed.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Public Speaking

I'm scheduled to be the presenter at a SouthWest Writers program. I'll be speaking about things I've learned about writing novels over the years and--more precisely--over the novels. My talk is called Novel to Novel: Learning as You Write.

It's a broad topic, so I have a lot of leeway in what to discuss. I'm enjoying the preparation so far--looking back at my novels, listing things each one taught me, and selecting examples to show how lessons from one novel carry forward to the next. My goal is to share my experiences in a way that will shorten the learning curve for others.

There's a well-publicized (and possibly contorted) statistic that people fear public speaking more than death. I don't, but I do get nervous, especially when I haven't been behind a podium in a while. It's been a while, but the venue should help ease my nerves. I'm there twice a month as part of the audience, and I like being around writers, especially this crowd.

So I'm hoping for the best. My friend Jill says I'll do fine because I'll be speaking about something I'm passionate about. She's got a point, as usual. Writing is my passion. My presentation will be June 17th, so I have three months to prepare. I'll report back here on how things go. Wish me luck.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Lulu for editing

I don't have a lot to report lately. I've spent some time working on a new novel I call WHITE NOISE, and the first draft continues to excite me as I write it. At this point it looks like I'm in it for the long haul. Yay!

I've also been editing--other people's novels and my own. There has been one interesting development in my self-editing efforts I'll share. I spent ten bucks to print a copy of one of my novels from It was money well spent.

Lulu is a print-on-demand publisher that some writers use to self-publish. I can see why. They do great work at a reasonable cost. I'm not planning to self-publish at this time, but printing out a single copy for personal use has been beneficial in several ways.

First it was a major rush to see and hold one of my novels all dressed up like it had been professionally published. Lulu provides a selection of covers for free (or you can design your own), so the end product really does look like a novel bought at a bookstore. The next benefit came from reading it. Little things jumped out that I'd missed during all my previous edits, so now the manuscript is improved. I must say, though, that the biggest benefit was the satisfaction and pride I felt reading my novel in novel form.

I've Lulu'd all four of my groomed novels now. I added pictures of their covers along the right side of this blog. It's a nice visualization of my goal to be published. I guess that's yet another benefit.

Thanks, Lulu.