Sunday, November 30, 2008


Do you own a 14-year-old boy?


Want one?

I'll sell him cheap.

He's driving me crazy!!

(But, as my Dad would say, "That's not a drive. It's a short putt.)


Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Editorial Roulette

There goes the roulette wheel, there goes the little white marble. Where will it land? Odd? Even? Anywhere.

Roulette, as finding a market for a story, is a game of chance with different levels of risk.

A bettor can place money on a single number, radically decreasing his odds, but making for a huge payoff, or he can wager on any odd number, giving him 50-50 odds, but a drastically lower payoff.

In submitting a piece of literary work to a market, we play a similar game, hoping, hoping, that our little marble will be spun around the wheel at the just the right time, the right velocity, fall at just the right angle, so that it will land on our number.

We might try for the big payoff by submitting to the professional markets. The odds of acceptance are drastically reduced. Or we can go for the low payoff by submitting to non-paying markets in which our only remuneration is knowing that someone is reading our work.

In any case, we can better our odds. Every writer should know exactly how this is done. But many don't. Some of these methods seem to make perfect sense to sensical people, but it is shocking how many writers don't heed them.

SPELLING and GRAMMER--How hard is it, really, to check spelling and grammar these days? Even WITH spell-checker on our word processors, every writer should carefully scan their works for errors the word processors might miss--like 'it's' instead of 'its,' or 'form' instead of 'from.' If your spelling and grammar aren't up to snuff, find a linguistic genius who is willing to do a quick copy edit for you.

FONTS--No. Don't. I don't know who told you it was a clever idea. I don't care. But don't. Don't submit your work in some cutesie or elegant font. Just pick something clear and easy on editor's eyes. The industry standards are Times New Roman and one of several forms of Courier, like Courier New. And while I'm at it DO NOT print hard copy submissions on colored paper. Just white. Good old bright white. Remember that science experiment from elementary school, in which you stared at a black, green, and orange picture of the American flag, then looked at a white paper and saw the flag in its glorious red, white, and blue? Just don't. White. Please.

SUBMISSION GUIDELINES--Most markets have quite specific submission guidelines, some psychotically so. Read them carefully. Follow them. Please. But I'll give you another hint: If a market's guidelines seem psychotically specific, do them anyway, unless that market doesn't pay for the trouble. In that case, they're SO not worth it. Go on to another market. If they do pay, and pay well, jump through flaming hoops and record it for posterity if they ask it.

STANDARD SUBMISSION FORMAT--This is the secret the pros ALL know about, and the editors too. If you want editors to know that you know something about writing, submit your work in standard submission format. Don't have a clue what that is? Google it. You'll find it. There's a good description at the SFWA website, and one at the Canadian Writer's Journal. Keep in mind that standard submission format is often different for submissions made through an online form. Again, read the market's submission guidelines to be sure. Most will tell you exactly how they want the work formatted, and often provide links to formatting guidelines.

KNOW HOW TO WRITE--Seems obvious, but I've heard a lot of writers say that they like to push the boundaries, break all the 'rules' of writing. Most of them don't know the rules well enough to be breaking them with any kind of authority, and it shows. Oh, yes. It shows. If you think of yourself as a writer or author or whatever tag you like to place behind your name on your business card, then you had better know the craft. Study, study, study. Read at least 10 good books on writing that are recommended by other writers. Be humble, and humbly ask for and accept critiques from other writers. Read the work of others and consciously analyze them for the elements of writing that you have been learning about in your quest to become published.

SUBMIT TO APPROPRIATE MARKETS--So you have the MOST AWESOME Sci-fi adventure story ever written! GREAT!! But don't submit it to Glimmer Train. They're not interested. Don't send your Western to AlienSkin, or your Erotic Romance to Cicada Children's Literature, or your Vampire story to Catholic Quarterly. Research your market thoroughly and be sure you know you're sending them something they might be remotely interested in. Not sure? Read their magazine. Still not sure? Submit anyway. The worst they can do is say 'no.'

If anyone reading this has some nuggets of wisdom to add, please, add away.

Following these hints will lower your odds considerably in any market. But your odds will never be high enough to guarantee publication--at least as long as you're a relative unknown. In reality, I can name only a very few writers--even the most revered of pros--who I would publish a story for sight-unseen.

Beyond skill and professionalism, finding a market for your story is complete luck. It's a matter of getting the right story to the right editor at the right time. Let's say you have an extraordinary story about the bittersweet witnessing of a loved-one's death. Let's say the magazine to which you've submitted has just contracted with another writer for a story about the bittersweet witnessing of a loved-one's death. Guess what. No sale. Let's say you have an amazing story about a boy and his dog. The editor who first reads it doesn't have much tolerance for stories about children and/or animals. No sale. BUT, let's say your story just happens to land on the desk of an editor who LOVES children/animal stories, AND it's well-written, AND there are no spelling or grammar errors, AND you've sent it in an acceptable font, in standard submission format, AND you've carefully followed their submission guidelines, AND the story is appropriate for the market...



It's still Roulette.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Liar, Liar

Feeling a bit better today. Typing is the most strenuous thing I'm going to do today so MAYBE tonight we can go out Christmas Shopping.

Do NOT get the stomach flu!

On to writing.

The Lying Writer:

I think I've written before about having read WAY too many horror stories in which, SUPRISE! the main character is actually a vampire!! And we only find this out, or even have any acceptable clues, in the last paragraph, sentence, or words.

The Surprise Ending, that ill-conceived attempt at building suspense, isn't exclusive to horror. Bad mystery writers use it. Bad fantasy writers use it. Bad science fiction writers use it. So what ever gave these writers the idea that it's a good idea? That it's clever? That it satisfies the reader in any way?

It's crucial at this point to distinguish between a "plot twist" and a "surprise ending." First, "plot twist" GOOD! "Surprise ending" BAD!

A plot twist is an often unexpected, but internally supported change in story direction. We'll take some examples from a fairly ancient piece of literature, to show that even a thousand years ago or more good writers knew the difference. "The Tale of the Three Apples" from the Tales of the Arabian Knights begins with a poor fisherman complaining to the Caliph that he hasn't been able to catch anything to feed his family with, let alone make any extra money to live on. The Caliph takes him to a different part of the river and tells him to cast in his line, and that whatever the old fisherman brings up, the Caliph will buy from him. The fisherman casts, and drags in a chest.

The Caliph pays the fisherman and sends him on his way. Then the chest is opened:

"Ja'afar and Masrur then broke it open and found therein a basket of palm leaves corded with red worsted. This they cut open and saw within it a piece of carpet, which they lifted out, and under it was a woman's mantilla folded in four, which they pulled out, and at the bottom of the chest they came upon a young lady, fair as a silver ingot, slain and cut into nineteen pieces."

Wow! That's quite the surprise. But is it unsupported? Of course not. When someone finds a heavy chest, anything could be inside. And the writer further leads you to a well-supported twist by taking you through the layers of basket, rug, and fabric before revealing the body.

Wow! It's cut up into nineteen pieces! That's quite the surprise, too. But equally supported--by the fact that it's a body stuffed in a trunk--an obvious victim of murder most foul. (You didn't know the Tale of Arabian Knights included murder mysteries, did you.)

To be quite short, this story is full of twists and surprises, every one of them supported, every one of them explained. At the end of the story we say, "AH! Of course! Yes, justice has been done."

(Well, not exactly. The murderer never actually pays for the crime in this story. Ja'afar goes on to tell the next tale in the sequence to buy the life of the real murderer. Read it here: )

So when is a plot twist a "SURPRISE!" ending?

When you, as the reader, engage in one of two reactions:
1. Huh?!? No way! The writer never gave me any clues whatsoever to make this a plausible solution!

Example: A murder mystery, told through the point of view of the detective. He follows trails, collects clues, interviews witnesses and potential suspects, makes accusations. Readers are intentionally led to suspect certain characters, left guessing all along (which a murder mystery SHOULD do). Then, on the very last page, SURPRISE!! we find out that the murderer is---the detective!

In this example, the reader has been misled, cheated, lied to all along. A well-written murder mystery never lies. It is full of liars and unreliable witnesses, but never once do we consider them fully truthful. The narrator never lies without us KNOWING that he is a liar. We are constantly skeptical of everyone's motivations and testimony except the one person in the murder mystery who carries us through the story. Usually this is the detective (Hercule Poirot) or meddling town busybody (Miss Marple). We don't know the solution because the detective doesn't know the solution. We figure it out when the detective figures it out. As it should be.


2. *roll of the eyes* Whatever! Give me a break! That was SO lame!

Example: A character in a story is struggling with a dark assailant. She is tied up. The reader feels for her struggle, fears for her safety, roots for her, wants her to be strong enough to free herself. Then, in the last line of the story, SURPRISE!! we discover that the assailant is a spider, the victim a fly.

Seems clever on the surface, but it is a lie. Readers don't like to be lied to, unless they can, in some way, surmise that they are being lied to.

Let me tell you what happens inside a reader's brain while they read:

A reader, using the clues and descriptions the writer gives them, creates a mental image of the scenery, the characters, the circumstances of the story. The reader's imagination becomes engaged--and when that happens, the writer has succeeded in making the reader PART of the story. Once the reader has become imaginatively engaged, it is the writer's responsibility NEVER (and I mean NEVER) to counter the reader's mental image.

If a story misleads the reader to form one mental image, then the writer provides a disparate written detail, the reader's mind must stop, rethink, readjust and go on. Every time the reader must stop (at any time, for any reason) the likelihood of him not continuing increases. If the writer creates a mental image, then counters it in the last line of the story, the reader feels cheated, cheated, cheated. He will throw the book or story down in disgust and curse the writer's name and rue the time he spent reading the story at all. If too many writers try to cheat the readers, we'll all have fewer readers. That's bad for us all. It's like politics. If we keep electing liars and cheats based on their misleading politicking, we'll eventually stop voting at all.

Writers have the heavy responsibility NEVER to waste the reader's time by misleading them.

So how might the above examples be successfully fixed?

The detective story should probably be told from the point of view of another character--perhaps an assistant detective or a victim's relative. This way the reader is never inside the mind of the detective. The writer should also plant some little tidbits of information that cast doubt on the character of the detective. Maybe some character flaws, or a relationship with the victim, some doubt as to the detective's alibi.

In the spider/fly story... I don't know. As a reader I'm not much interested in the struggle between a spider and a fly. I really don't want to be inside the mind of fly, or a cat or a hamster. I'm a human. I understand what it is to be human. If a writer wants me to sympathize with the poor fly, then help me relate to it through human experience, rather than through the fly's. For instance, a woman watches a fly struggling in a web and relates it to how she felt when she was assaulted--though I really can't stomach reading yet another rape/incest/sexual abuse story right now. Ugh. OK, so a more positive example--the story of Robert Bruce watching the spider and learning from its persistence and eventual success. We the reader, relate to both Bruce and gain some understanding for the spider.

Wow. Long post. Enough for today, I think. Next time...

Editorial Roullette.

Sunday, November 16, 2008


Stomach Flu.

'Nuf said.

I'm on my way to the bathroom.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Enough About Politics

I'm a writer, for crap's sake, and this is a writer's blog, so I should talk about writing.

I'm reading a couple of short story collections right now:

Flash Fiction


Stephen King's The Year's Best Short Fiction 2007.

The first has been disappointing. Hardly a 'story' in it that is a 'story.' Most are vignette pieces. What's the challenge in that? I know it's popular in the literary circles to write 1000 words or so of random drivel, but I prefer flash fiction to be an actual, complete, total, conflict-resolution STORY!! I wish they'd call their short-short vignettes something different. Like flash-boring. I mean, it's like listening to teenage girls bounce randomly from subject to subject.

The second, I've liked quite a lot, with a few exceptions. I prefer stories in which I can become attached to the characters, at least relate to them. But there are a few of King's choices in which that just doesn't happen. I can cite one example specifically--an older couple, retired, decide to go to a local toga party, realize they're too old and outmoded to live anymore, so they go home and kill themselves. How depressing! How ridiculous!

I do have to say, while the writing is excellent in every story, and the stories are well-told, there have really only been a few that have stuck with me in that profound way that I really LOVE stories to stick with me. If you're a writer you probably know exactly what I'm talking about when I say that I really love the kind of story that made me want to be a writer when I grew up, to want to cause that kind of deep thought and longing that I felt in the hearts and minds of others.

You'll have to read King's collection yourself to see what the stories do for you.

It is a truth that we drag our lives with us everywhere we go, and what is meaningful to one person may be vapid to another.

Friday, November 7, 2008


So I'm Mormon. Everybody got that?

In our church we believe that before this world was there was a battle between the followers of God the Father and the followers of his rebellious son, Lucifer.

You see, Lucifer wanted to give us a gift--guaranteed salvation. But he wanted to give us that gift by way of taking away the one thing that the Father viewed as most precious above all things--choice. Lucifer was using the promise of guaranteed salvation as a bribe to gain votes for his side. But what did he really want? He wanted power and control over the minds and wills of mankind.

Lucifer lost, and man came to earth with the freedom to choose for himself, by the way he lived, whether he would gain salvation and return to live with God.

So why do I bring this up?

Because of that speech that I provided the link to in my last post--The Proper Role of Government.

You see, as citizens of this United States, we have a duty to support our government in a few things. A very few things. Those are listed quite nicely in the preamble to the constitution.

Now the preamble says, "...promote the general welfare..." Promote, not provide. Promote and provide do not mean the same thing. Promote means to encourage the environment that makes it possible. Provide means to actually produce and distribute. Yet those four little words have been used to justify burdening the American people with an enormous welfare system and thousands of other entitlement programs.

What's wrong with that?

Choice. That's what's wrong with it.

YOU may not have a problem with the government deciding for you how to distribute your money. But what if your neighbor does? Is it right to take away his power to choose for himself what will be done with his money?

You see, I believe in God. I believe that God has certain expectations of us, and one of those expectations is that we will take care of our neighbors when they fall into trouble. If we choose, of our own free will, not to do so, we risk condemnation. If, by our own free will, we choose TO do so, we will be rewarded and blessed. But that's between me and God, not between me and government. So, I suppose those who are OK with the government giving their money to the poor FOR them will be blessed for their intentions, but how much more might you be blessed if you make a conscious and personal effort to help someone in need? You know what they say about the road to hell. Actions = golden paving stones. Intentions = brimstone.

And what about the person who would rather choose for himself how, or whether, he will help his neighbor, but who is compelled by law to do it the government's way? Is he equally blessed? I don't know. I just don't know. Forced service feels too much like forced servitude to me.

Another problem with handing over these matters to government is that it becomes too impersonal, and when it becomes impersonal there is no motivation to feel any personal responsibility for the help received. We see this every day in the millions of Americans who spend their entire lives needlessly living off welfare with no thought to where that help is coming from, or who might be effected by it.

So, what if the guy who wants food stamps has to actually get up off his couch and go begging to his neighbor for them? Has to actually look the person in the eye, has to actually see the kids he's trying to feed, has to actually see that he works 50 or 60 hours a week to pay the mortgage?


One thing that is true is that Americans are the most generous people in the world, despite and on top of the scads of money that we, by compulsion, pump into welfare programs that don't work very well and are continually abused.

Just imagine, if we are already that generous, how much more generous might we be if we had our own money to give as we wished? And how much more efficient might the recipients of our charity be if they had to prove to US individually BEFORE they received our money, how well they use the money we give?


Thursday, November 6, 2008

The Experiment

Off we go into a new age of experimenting with the governance of humankind.

I would like to make a few points:

1. It has now been better than 100 years since the grand experiment of the founding fathers has been left to run its course unfettered by government interference in the liberties of its citizenry.

2. No one side--liberals or conservatives--has had a fighting chance to let their policies run their course to see exactly whether they work or not. We flip-flop between the more left-leaning Democrat party and the more right-leaning Republican party and give them a few years to try to accomplish something. They accomplish next to nothing (surprise, surprise--like we expect anything more from politicians) and we, being impatient and flippant ourselves, and incorrectly expecting government to solve our many woes, boot them out to try the other side.

3. It is a cold hard truth that Americans have discovered that they can dip into the government kitty, and have been trained since the days of FDR's New Deal and before, that we are entitled to do so. This being true, we expect too much of government. We expect to receive without giving, and expect to give to something that none of us truly believe works, but that we continue to hope will do so, because we're too butt lazy to do it ourselves.

4. That being said, we are angered when liberals raise taxes, but happy that they are able to reduce the debt and provide more costly government entitlement programs. On the converse, we are overjoyed when conservatives cut taxes, but angered that they can't reduce the debt, (but we're damned if we're going to let them cut government programs--even those NOT supported by the constitution--to accomplish that)

5. The Grand Experiment of small government endured little more than 100 years. After that, government began to grow beyond the limits enumerated in the Constitution. This expansion of government has continued, taking enormous leaps with FDR's New Deal and Lyndon Johnson's Great Society. Before the expansion of government, the nation enjoyed unparalleled literacy, unparalleled opportunity, unparalleled prosperity, unparalleled liberty when compared with the rest of the world. SINCE the beginning of the growth of government, all these aspects of American Society have slowly declined.

6. I believe that the philosophical difference between a Democrat and a Republican these days is comparable to the difference between a green apple and a ripe one. They're both apples. One is just closer to being rotten than the other.

7. I believe that America is on the cusp of a societal revolution--a division along philosophical lines between those who want to restore America to its Constitutional foundations and those who would sacrifice liberty and America's Constitutional framework for an engineered, government-controlled society. Maybe such a division would prove, once and for all, which side has it right. But see, I thought the founders already did that a couple of hundred years ago, when they formed a nation that became the absolute envy of the world--even before it became something they would hardly recognize were they to rise from their graves today.

8. I love the Constitution. I believe it was formed by a group of brilliant, forward-thinking, open-minded men who were in the right place at the right time in the history of our planet, who were inspired by our Creator to give us, as a gift of greatest value, liberty beyond compare anywhere in the world, and anyTIME in the world for that matter. I believe that, as God is unchangeable, so it he Constitution. I believe that government has a proper role, and that this proper role is the role given in the Constitution.

Below is a link to a speech, "The Proper Role of Government," by Ezra Taft Benson, then-Secretary of Agriculture for President DD Eisenhower, and a brilliant man who loved this country more deeply than anyone I have ever encountered.

For some reason, the link didn't work last time. If it doesn't work again, the link is

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Movie (Or is it a Play?) Recommendation

My family and I sat down tonight and watched "The Reduced Shakespeare Company: The Compleate Works of Wlm. Shakespeare, Abridged."

If you haven't seen this production live (which I have), you can now get it on DVD, and it's JUST as entertaining.

Our whole family had plenty of laugh-out-loud moments, and learned a lot about Shakespeare. My daughter even remarked that watching this production made her want to read more Shakespeare.

Granted, it's probably not a film you're going to find readily at your local Blockbuster Video. So I'm going to recommend Netflix while I'm here.

We've been using Netflix for around 6 months now, and are supremely impressed. Their selection of films is HUGE! I've never looked up a movie (even obscure ones) and not had a successful search. They even have educational videos, PBS videos, documentaries, foreign films, independent films. They're all there. They have an automatic recommendation system based on your ratings of films you've already seen. Their customer service is absolutely TOP NOTCH! And the price is easily competetive with any plan the local video stores offer. Their turnaround time is impressively swift. We mail our movies in on Wednesday and we almost always have our next batch of movies back for our Friday family movie night. Movies are easily searchable by genre, title, starring actors, etc.

We pay $18 a month which allows us to have three movies at home, plus unlimited access to Netflix's fairly extensive library of Watch Instantly movies that includes a whole lot of classic films, and a good number of more recent ones. My kids will sit at the computer and watch Pink Panther cartoons, or old musicals. I've watched "Empire of the Sun" and "Murder by Death." My youngest fell in love with "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers."

Good times!