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What it takes to get one moving

If you’ve read this blog – and I thank you for sticking with it if you have been, since I don’t update as often as I should – you know that I’ve been published. We’ve had some respectable sales for that anthology.

The publisher has been talking about another anthology for a while, and I’d been writing a story for it. Gotten about 4500 words into it, planning for about 7500, just as before.

And then he sits us with the request that our word count be about 5000 words.

Well, I took a good look at the story that I was 4500 words into, and realized just what a verbose son of a bitch I can be when I’m not editing myself. I’m going through that story right now to pare down. Plus, I think this has cleared up a different issue I was having with it, since I’d gotten stuck at one point. Just change what I was going to do. (Sounds easy, doesn’t it? *laugh*)

Plus, I’m working on at least one other story to make available for the anthology. What I’d really love is to get more than one story in there, but that’s not likely. But if I can give a choice? The best of two or three? Much better chance of being selected for it.

But hey, a guy can hope for getting more than one story to get chosen.

And keep an eye out here – I’ll be starting some posts soon about a process I came across, and I want to blog about it to let you know how I think it works. It’s Karen Wiesner’s “First Draft in 30 Days”, and it looks pretty good.

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Eight Ways to Avoid Publication

If you’re serious about being a writer, then you should probably keep something important in mind. I guarantee you that ignoring the advice in this article will destroy your chances at being published.


Arrogance? No. Simple common sense and you’ll see why when you read further.


There are many things that you have no control over when you try to get a short story or novel published: Did the reader have a bad day, so nothing got past his or her circular file that day? Did the reader not like your work, even though you believe that you’ve written the masterpiece of the Millennium? No matter how much you’d like to, you can’t prevent these sort of thing from happening.


What you can prevent is your story being discarded for errors that make the publisher believe that you are either unintelligent or simply don’t care. I’ll take them in no particular order.


1 ) Spelling


Always reread your documents, and get someone with a good vocabulary to read through them as well. DO NOT RELY ON YOUR COMPUTER’S SPELL-CHECKER! I cannot stress that point enough. The reason is clear: Eye can rite a sentence that past the spell-checker and still doesn’t make real cents.


See what I mean? That last sentence did, in fact, make it past my spell-checker. If all you’re doing is looking for a wiggly red line under the word to tell you it’s wrong, then you’ll get a story bounced so fast that you’ll probably hear the BOING! at the publisher’s.


You need more than your own eyes and the “eyes” of your computer to get the spelling right in your story. I won’t belabour this point overly much; this very sentence involves a different issue -; spelling variations. There are many words that have what are referred to as “British” spellings, such as the form of “belabour” I just used. I could also have written “belabor” and been just as correct. The problem arises when you flip back and forth. If you’re typing “colour” early in the manuscript, do NOT suddenly switch to “color” elsewhere. If you’re an American writing for the American audience, it’s best to avoid the British spellings altogether.


There’s a further point to make regarding spell-checking on a computer: as I write this, my computer is telling me that “color” is incorrectly spelled. That’s because it’s currently set to UK English. As soon as I switched it to US English, it told me that “colour” was the incorrect one. Yet another reason to avoid trusting the computer’s spelling suggestion as the right one.


2 ) Grammar


I’m going to rewrite the sentence from above to see if you can catch the other error in it. Obviously, spelling isn’t part of that error. The error in question was put in there intentionally.


I can write a sentence that passed the spell-checker and still doesn’t make any sense.


I’m not going to throw out all those terms that some people do -; not everyone understands what you mean when you refer to a “pluperfect” tense -; but I will tell you that I changed time sense in that sentence. “I can write” implies that it is not written, or is about to be written. “That passed the spell-checker” states that it has been written already.


Get your tenses right!


3 ) Homophones and similar-looking words.


A homophone is a word that sounds like a different word. The most common examples are “through/threw” and “two/too/to”. Several were used in that sentence I keep coming back to – “eye/I,” “rite/write/right,” “past/passed.”


A similar situation comes with words that are close in appearance. “Breathe/breath”, “loose/lose”, and even things like “tome/tomb”. Be very careful when writing these. They are terribly easy to slip in and not notice, which can lead to a sentence such as the following:


“John found Marsha in the library pouring over an old tomb.”


She should be “poring” over a “tome”. Either that, or John should be asking why she’s pouring some liquid over the place where someone was buried, and what that burial place is doing in a library.


I won’t stress this point too much, because you either get it or you don’t. If you don’t see the problem with “Take a deep breathe,” or “Faster, or else we’ll loose him!”, then there are other obstacles in the way of your getting published.


4 ) Commas


This one is a big deal. Usually punctuation is a problem because people either use too much of it or not enough. People will either pepper their documents with commas, or use them sparingly. (There are other punctuations that are misused. I’ll deal with them shortly.)


I have been known to overuse commas myself. This comes down to my hearing the words as I write, so I place the comma where I would pause a sentence if I were speaking it. This is actually a BAD way to write, as I find myself removing commas when I reread the work in question. Others will write a sentence that should pause at some point but doesn’t which leads to a slightly breathless feeling at the end of it if your reader is actually still reading the thing. (See what I mean?)


Another aspect of commas is using them in a list. Some say that it replaces an “and” in a sentence, as in “John, Mary and Joseph stepped out” replaces “John and Mary and Joseph stepped out”. Others use what is called the Oxford comma, which would place a comma after “Mary” in the first version. This is a matter of style, and you should find out the publisher’s position on it. If the publisher has no official position on it, then your only worry is consistency, because switching back and forth between them will be noticed. Most American publishers tend to use the Chicago Manual of Style as their “bible” for punctuation and grammar. It would be money well spent if you buy a copy.


5 ) Semicolons


There are three main uses for semicolons: to connect two clauses that have equal weight, to separate items in a list that contains commas, and when using a comma to separate would lead to confusion. A), B), and C) are examples of each of these.


A) Proofreading a document will help catch errors; this should never be done when you’re tired.


B) The meeting will be in Dallas, Texas on April 26, 2008; in Boulder, Colorado on May 1, 2008; and in Los Angeles on May 15, 2008.


C) The inventory request was for 3-ring binders, cellophane tape, and ballpoint pens; but toner, legal pads, and pencils were sent in their place.


6 ) Colons


Colons are used in five places: to announce a list (such as this one); to announce an important clause that needs a stronger break than a semicolon; in a quotation of a biblical verse such as John 3:1; marking subdivisions of time such as 6:30 a.m.; and to separate a title and subtitle such as Harpo Speaks: the Autobiography of Harpo Marx.


7 ) Dashes


The most common usage of the dash is to hyphenate a word. The other two most common usages are to be inclusive in a list, such as saying “October 13-19,” which tells the reader that the writer is referring to every single day from October 13 through October 19; and to be a slightly more informal version of a colon when announcing a list or important clause.


There is one further usage, which is to make what is known as a parenthetic comment. This is usually author intrusion into the work in question, such as the times it has been done above. In something informal–such as this work–using the parenthetic comment isn’t a bad thing. When it’s used in a work of fiction to give information that should have been given already, a writer reveals his inexperience. It would be like saying: “John jumped on his motorcycle (which he’d learned to ride the previous summer) and rode away.” The writer should have let us know in another way that John had learned to ride the motorcycle. That sort of sentence tends to mark the writer as an amateur. (Using them to make comments to the readers DEFINITELY marks the writer as an amateur.)


8 ) Perspective or “Point of View”


This is a mistake that beginning writers always seem to make. It sounds easy to avoid, but it can be surprisingly hard to write with consistant perspective (or “point of view”).


When you write, you must decide on the point of view. Is it simply from a single character’s perspective? Does the reader only see what the character sees, and never learns anything that the character doesn’t remember?


There is nothing wrong with using multiple people’s perspectives. Many excellent books do this. Tom Clancy does this in all of his books. Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy is another example. Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen does this as well.


All of the books above share a trait, however: the perspective changes are clearly marked. The reader can always tell when the point of view has switched to a new person. It is when you fail to mark these shifts that problems come in. I have read amateur works where the writer shifted to the thoughts of four separate people in one scene. A scene should focus on one character, and only his or her innermost thoughts should be available to the reader in that scene. If the innermost thoughts of a different character are needed, then a new scene should be written. Perhaps the same incident as seen by another person would do well, if it is vital that the reader get those deepest thoughts. Publishers watch for this sort of mistake, however, and doing it in a scene is a sure-fire way to kill your chances at getting published if you’ve managed to get them to read past your first hundred words.


* * * * *


John strode into the room confidently, smiling as he saw his girlfriend Lisa sitting on the couch. From the small ticking noises she made, it was obvious to him that she was knitting, which she only did when very nervous.


It’s probably the fight I just had with David that has her worried. I’d better ease her mind.


He walked over and gently touched her shoulder, murmuring “Hey,” as he touched her, hoping to avoid startling her.


She was obviously startled despite that, as her knitting shot skyward and she spun, her mind racing at the possibilities–why was someone touching her? Her eyes filled with happy tears as she realised that it was her John, and not David who had caught her attention.


He grinned widely. “Sorry about that,” he said, walking around the couch and pulling her into a hug.


* * * * *


The example above is heavy-handed. I wanted it clear that the first three paragraphs and the last one are from John’s perspective. We even see his thoughts. The problem is in the fourth paragraph, where the perspective suddenly shifts to Lisa. If we are seeing everything from John’s point of view, it can be jarring to suddenly see another character’s thoughts.


That snippet with John and Lisa might not seem bad to you. A publisher, though, is going to look at that and realise that you don’t have a solid grasp on writing because of that unexpected perspective change. The scene might not be confusing to you, but if you don’t train yourself to write a single scene from a single point of view, then you will never get published by more than a vanity press. I have heard this directly from published authors who have worked closely with their publishers.


This article is certainly not the entirety of the subject. There are punctuation mistakes I have not gone into, various grammar mistakes that need to be avoided, and a slew of other things that will kill your chances to be published. But these are the ones that cause the most trouble, in my opinion. Pay heed to these points and you will improve your chances.




This blog posting was originally posted on January 4, 2008 at


I wrote the original post, and have permission from that blog owner to reprint my posting here at my own blog.

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Well, I’m glad I changed the name of the blog!

If I used the old title, I wouldn’t be able to call myself an amateur any longer.

Kindle link

This link gets you a version in paperback.

I’ll add a posting with the link for the Nook and other e-book readers when I have that one, as well.

But I’m now a professional writer! I’ve got a professional credit under my belt! W00t!

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NaNoWriMo update

Well, so far I’m doing well. I started today being about 6,000 words behind. Actually a little more than that. Currently I’m 1,601 words behind where I should be for the day, and I’m not quite done typing yet. With luck, I can bring it to maybe being only a day behind, and with writing at least 2,000 to 3,000 words a day when I can write, I’ll not only catch up but get past where I need to be by tomorrow.

It’s funny, but as I typed that, I found myself learning an odd little thing about myself – if I need to write big numbers like that, they look wrong to me if I don’t put the commas in them. 3000 looks wrong in a paragraph, while 3,000 doesn’t. (Unless 3000 happens to be the title of something, at which point it looks perfectly fine, if that makes any sense. 🙂 )

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A writing update

Been doing the NaNoWriMo this year, after not doing it last year. Original work this time, and hoping for better quality than the first time I tried an original work.

I’m about two days behind, after feeling a bit sick for a couple days, but I think I can catch up fairly easily, since I know the plot pretty solidly.

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A new beginning, of sorts

You may have noted the new look and name. I moved back to WordPress as my software, if only because it’s much easier to find updates and fixes for problems. Found a nice conversion process after some Google-fu, and then spent an hour or so converting a major mistake once the process did EXACTLY what it was supposed to do. (In other words, the mistake was MY fault.)

The name change and logo change are a part of the direction change of the site. It was originally something of a lark, where I’d write about my writing and a few other things, and maybe ogle a naked girl as I looked at the site. But due to a few things, I’ve decided to get serious about it.

Hence the change. The quill may be a stereotypical choice when doing a writing blog, but given my finances, it was the cost that I could pay – free to a non-commercial site. The name is from a Hemingway comment, saying that you can write an entire novel in six words, if you choose them carefully. That novel is the new title of my blog.

I will have more news tomorrow. Good news, in fact, and hopefully will have figured out how to post a picture to this blog. It’s a picture I really want to post, and it doesn’t involve a naked girl at all. It does involve Christmas in a way, though, but not in the way you might think.

Until tomorrow!

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Guy Fawkes Day once more

Remember, remember the Fifth of November,
The Gunpowder Treason and Plot,
I know of no reason
Why the Gunpowder Treason
Should ever be forgot.
Guy Fawkes, Guy Fawkes, t’was his intent
To blow up the King and Parli’ment.
Three-score barrels of powder below
To prove old England’s overthrow;
By God’s providence he was catch’d
With a dark lantern and burning match.
Holla boys, Holla boys, let the bells ring.
Holloa boys, holloa boys, God save the King!
And what should we do with him? Burn him!

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Some thoughts on Christianity

This is going to offend some, and I can’t help that. These are my thoughts on the subject, and being offended with them won’t change that. Honest reasoning might, but flames? What I expect from some.

I have my problems with it mostly for two doctrines at the heart of the religion – Hell, and suffering. Suffering is the first one, because my greatest derision is for Hell.

God is defined as being all powerful, all knowing, and all loving. I won’t get into the stupid logic problems of “Can God create a rock too heavy for Him to lift?” Those are semantic games that don’t really prove anything except what certain logic forms can’t do. However, it is accepted by most Christians that God is all of the above.

So, we have the above defined. Now, as someone phrased it better than I can, there are three choices, none of them pleasant for Christians to think about. First is that he has the power to stop suffering and chooses not to use it. This makes him evil. Second, he knows about it but can’t stop it from happening. This makes him less powerful than a God should be. Third, he has neither the power nor the knowledge to stop suffering. Why call him God, then? Those really are the three choices. To say, “It’s beyond mortal ken” is to really say “I don’t want to think about it very hard.” “God is teaching a lesson by having that earthquake in Haiti.” So what precisely is he teaching us when he kills people in the five to six figure range? “I do it because I can?” If he’s got a specific lesson and he’s omnipotent, don’t you think he could make the lesson clearer, without killing spectators?

I can’t buy YHVH for that reason alone, but let’s get to the doctrine of Hell. As all the Christians I’ve talked to define it, the concept of Hell is by far the nastiest and most evil concept anyone could come up with, and it’s only purpose is revenge. "”Ever-lasting torment".” “Eternal lake of fire.” “Endless suffering.” These are just a few ways to describe this ‘place’.

Who goes there? Obviously the most vile and evil of sinners, like Hitler or Stalin or Mao Tse Tung, right? Well, some Christians will say yes, but the majority of this place of unending pain’s residents are those who did not accept Jesus Christ into their hearts when they were alive.

That’s right. Jeffrey Dahmer, someone who apparently enjoyed his fellow man a bit more than the next guy (especially with a good barbeque sauce), was apparently saved from this place by professing to have found Jesus before the end. “No Hell for you! You stroked my ego!” The nice Muslim man down the block who gives a significant portion of his money to work on the neighborhood to make it a place for everyone’s children to play, who once risked his life to save someone else’s life? Sorry, didn’t believe in Christ as his savior, so he gets to burn.

My wife phrased it this way, and I like it, because it’s a chilling description. Hell is the equivalent of seeing your baby steal a cookie, so rather than punish him then and there, you wait five to ten years before flaying every inch of skin off his body and covering him in a solution of salt, lemon juice and alcohol. You then do nothing to alleviate the pain and suffering you’ve just caused, and don’t tell him why you did it.

Real world, if this happened, the person would be – at best – in a mental institution for the rest of their life, and more likely be spending the majority of their days in prison. The parent who did this would be called all forms of evil.

But God is seen as just and loving for doing precisely the same thing. If there is a punishment, a good parent makes it clear so that you have no way of mistaking it. Saying that preachers and churches are his way doesn’t cut it. Who do you listen to? Which has it right? The Catholics (who believe in the ability to pray people out of Hell, I understand, which is an amazing concept)? The Baptists? The Muslim? The Hindus? Each have their own message. In the cookie example, you stop the child right then and tell them what they did wrong, and how to avoid another spanking. In a religious example, if you have that kind of a punishment, you need to make the message as unmistakable as that spanking for the cookie theft is to the child.

And there is no unmistakable message. As I said – who has the right message? They can’t all be right. So we have choices:

1) God doesn’t exist but Hell does. Not likely, because who decides who goes to this place? With no God, there is no Hell.

2) God exists, but Hell doesn’t. This means that this Sky God is as all loving as his press releases say. Still, do you want to be faced in the afterlife with a parent who looks at you and lovingly admonishes you for wrong things done? We don’t like it in the here and now, why would it be any better then?

3) Both exist. God is evil, then, because there is no clear-cut way of telling the proper path. To be taken from the evil category, assuming that this option is correct, he needs to make it much clearer. Send a sign no one can possibly miss, such as sending Jesus down in a manner that makes it clear that this is no trick. (He’s omnipotent – it’s child’s play to do that for him.)

4) Neither exist. So there’s no God, and no Hell. We still face the consequences of our actions in the here and now. We might be good at avoiding some of them, but only the mentally damaged can get away from their consciences. There is always that part that will wish that it had shown a bit more dignity, and treated others as it wished to be treated.


So what’s the best decision? Pascal’s Wager is a metaphysical threat, and requires an unproven to be effective. Using our four choices above, your best bet is to live life the best way you can. As I paraphrase someone else – “Live life like there’s a party at the end of time and no assholes are invited.” Yeah, we all act like asses occasionally, but living your life that way? Treat your fellow man with the same dignity that you want to be treated with. If there’s a Heaven and Hell, a truly loving God is going to look at your actions and reward you. If there’s no afterlife, you still get to die knowing that you made life better for other people.

And really, isn’t that what it’s all about? Making life better for everyone, whether or not there’s a metaphysical threat behind it?


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A step closer to publishing?

I’ve sent off to an editor (and received back) the story that’s actually finished and nearing readiness. The editor/reader had some excellent suggestions that I will slip into the story as I can, and I am hoping that when the people putting the anthology together read it, they decide that it belongs in the anthology.

Keeping the fingers crossed, and working on the only story I’ve ever written with a duck stampede.


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My Google-Fu is improving

I remember that my grandmother said, for the longest time, that her grandmother was Blackfoot Indian. But ALL the data I have on that woman (scanty though it is) states that the woman was born in NY. The Blackfeet were never relocated to NY State.

Well, scanning the web again, I found a reference to the Saponi and Tutelo tribes, which lived in in the Virginias and Carolinas for the longest time. But there were historical records quoted that stated that a large number of them had gone north, to Pennsylvania and … New York! The reason this was important? One of the local names for the tribe (before they moved) was Blackfoot, probably due to their agricultural roots and the dark soil in that area.

In heading North, they were adopted into the Seneca and Cayuga tribes. So both my mother and my brother were right when they remembered things – he remembered Grandma saying that she was Blackfoot, and Mom was sure that we were Seneca or Cayuga.

But finding that takes a fruitless search to a difficult one. Much easier to deal with.

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