Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Writing After the Holiday Cheer

I’ve noticed there are lots of articles in writer’s magazines and on blogs about getting back to writing now that the holiday season is winding down.

Yes, Virginia, it is a busy time, but a break can improve your writing. It’s hard to be creative all the time, and a change of routine is not only good for the mind and soul, it’s good for your creativity.

What I find works for me is to work on two or three projects at the same time. I’m not saying this is for everyone, but it works well for me. I’m currently working on 3 novels right now. One is complete and two are in the beginning chapters. I’ll work on one for awhile, then put it aside and pick up the next one. What I find is that when I go back to one of the novels after a week or two, I have a whole new outlook on it and I usually improve the writing or the characters or the plot.

I try to write something every night - have to make a living during the day. And I usually write for a few hours in the morning on weekends unless a flash of creativity strikes and then I’ll spend more time writing.

I carry a small notebook around all the time to write down ideas or I use a voice recorder when I can’t use the notebook. I also keep a notebook and pen on my nightstand for those rare dreams or epiphanies that come in the middle of the night.

I find my creativity is more abundant and the writing flows better when I can take breaks and think about my writing rather than thinking about how much I should write.

Happy writing!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

It's a Wonderful Life

My wife and I were watching Frank Capra’s “It’s a Wonderful Life” on NBC the other night for the 100th time or so. We both have seen the movie so many times we can recite the actor’s lines as they say them. We watch it every year just as we put up a Christmas tree every year. Although we have seen the movie many times, we both thoroughly enjoy watching it again often saying, “This is one of my favorite scenes,” or “I can’t wait to see this part.”

I started thinking about this film and why it is still popular and why it is so timeless. After all, the film debuted in movie theaters on December 20, 1946, it is in black and white and the lifestyle and mores of the era are those of our parents and grandparents depending how old you are. Some of the actors and scenes are corny by today’s standards, but the film remains highly popular. In addition, it was considered a box office flop because it did not generate the anticipated revenue.

As I watched it I could see that the film was made like a well written novel. Great characterizations, conflict, drama and George Bailey’s (played by Jimmy Steward) self realization that his problems were nothing compared to all the things he had done and all the people his life had touched. All the plot points are resolved in the end and two major themes emerge: self sacrifice to help others and that family and friends are all that matter.

This is the stuff of great novels like GONE WITH THE WIND, THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA and others that speak a universal human truth that lives on through each generation. A truth that is not anchored in time and relevant to the values of any era. This is the kind of story telling all writers would love to write and it is the universal thread that keeps us writing against all odds.

If you have never watched “It’s a Wonderful Life” it is one of those films that should be required watching to become a member of the human race. It’s a film you should watch if you are writing a novel because it has all the elements of great story telling.

Here are links to additional information on the film.

A great review by Tom Dirks on

Photos and videos on The Internet Movie Database

Photos and information at Reel Classics

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Do You Believe in Reincarnation?

Author MJ Rose believes so, along with 60 million others in America and this inspired her to write, THE REINCARNATIONIST, her ninth book, a suspenseful historical thriller about gripping revelations on humanity and beyond.

Her book, released on Sept. 1, appears to have been smoldering inside of MJ all of her life as she tells how it started although she didn't know it would be a book one day.

"When I was three years old, I told my great grandfather things about his childhood in that there was simply no way I could have known. He became convinced I was a reincarnation of someone in his past. Over time, after more incidents, my mother - a very sane and logical woman - also came to believe it."

Read my interview with this fascinating author on the Algonkian Writers Conferences website.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Publishing Trends Favor Women's Fiction

If you want to get a feel for what publishers are buying these days, check out Agent Andrew Zack's blog at all that's new(s) from A to Z: Looking for...Historical Fiction...and Women's Fiction...

He is now representing manuscripts in the following areas:
  • Commercial Women's Fiction
  • Literary Women's Fiction
  • Romance Fiction, including Romantic Suspense and Paranormal Romance
  • Chick Lit
  • Smart women's fiction that isn't Chick Lit or Romance
It seems that the majority of agencies are looking in these genres for well-written and compelling manuscripts. Why? According to Mr. Zack,
  1. I'm married now and wifey needs more to read;
  2. The majority of my interns are women and many are fans of these categories;
  3. Fifty percent of all books sold in the United States each year fall into those categories.
Don't be discouraged if your book doesn't fall into one of these categories - there is still plenty of room for thrillers, suspense and other genres provided you have a concept that immediately pulls readers into your book and your writing reflects your voice.

It's just that this is a strong trend right now and like everything else trends change and other genres may dominate the publishing industry.

Friday, September 21, 2007

How a Novel is Born

You can now download a FREE copy of Absence of Faith from the Publisher's website at

Have you ever wondered what people would do if you took away their faith, their hope, and their religion? Is religion and mores what keeps us civilized and superior to the animal kingdom? My wife and I were discussing these very ideas one day and we thought it would make an interesting plot for a novel.

The result was Absence of Faith, a modern day medical mystery thriller, where negative near death experiences plague a small, highly religious town causing many of its residents to lose their faith, and their belief in the future. When some residents wake up with burnt skin, they believe they went to hell and that God has abandoned them. Matters get worse when a local cult uses the opportunity to promote their beliefs and win over the town residents. The result is an absence of faith.

Here is an excerpt:

Father McDuffy directed him to the head of the table, but he did not sit. The bishop placed a hard black briefcase on the table and snapped the hasps open. The sound and deliberate motions of the bishop suggested that his black case held something ominous and evil and that it would be unleashed when he opened it. The men in the room watched trance-like as the bishop opened the case and took out a small stack of papers.

"All my life I have battled evil. I have avoided it at every turn. I have turned it back whenever I could. I have sacrificed and I have worked very hard to lead my people on the right road, the good road, the road towards salvation. And I have been successful. But now for the first time in my life I don't feel this is something we can ignore or is it something to be taken lightly. I feel that this evil is very strong and we have to push very hard to help our followers hold on to their faith in God and his teachings. I have never said this, but I feel the evil is winning," the bishop announced in a deep, dark authoritarian voice.

"I believe we are seeing the beginning of the end - not a disease or a pestilence, but the rise of Satan, the rise of evil in the world. Armageddon. This did not just happen yesterday or last week or last year. I have been watching it for several decades," the bishop said.

He reached into his briefcase and took out a pair of reading glasses. He positioned them on his large, baldhead, and then reached down and took hold of a thick rust brown leather-jacketed book. Its edges and corners were lighter in color than the rest of the jacket. He pushed his briefcase aside and placed the heavy book on the table in front of him. His hand disappeared into his pant pocket and then reappeared holding a small gold key. He placed the tiny key in a gold lock that held the book shut. The men could hear themselves breathing. He turned the key and the lock made a sharp click. He moved the belt clasp out of the tiny hasp and slowly opened the book. Its pages were the color of old newsprint. He bent down close to the book and turned several pages and then he stopped. He began to read:

"'And when the thousand years are expired, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison,' is from Revelations, 20:7 ' ye have heard that Anti-Christ shall come, even now there are many Anti-Christs...’ from 1 John 2:18. This Anti-Christ is expected to spread evil throughout the world, only to be conquered by the Second Coming of Christ and the end of the world. Thes first Anti-Christ was Napoleon, who was responsible for the deaths of two million people and fourteen years of war. The second Anti-Christ was Hitler, who was responsible for the deaths of some fifty million human beings in his pursuit to conquer the world. I believe the third and last Anti-Christ is here now and living somewhere in this world in our current century,” Bishop Phulax explained without blinking once.

The small crowd sighed.

Will the heroine, Chantress, stop the antagonist, Kyle Mabus from destroying all known religions? You can read the first chapter by clicking on the link to the publisher’s page: Absence of Faith

I rewrote the entire book because I created the original in the late 1980s. The characters used phone booths and fax machines quite a bit back then and I had to bring them into the 21st century with cell phones and email. I also greatly improved the plot and put in additional chapters to make the story hold together better.

Researching the facts in the book was a lot more work back in the 1980s when the Internet didn't exist - I had to do my research the old fashioned way - in the library. It was slower and obviously more time consuming.

The setting for the book is based on an actual small town on the coast of New Jersey, where in fact many of the residents were highly religious. I don't know if it is still that way today, but the town is very unique and still has the charm and character of the 19th century.

My daughter, Emily, 12, illustrated the cover from a photo we found of a large stained glass church window. I took her ink pen illustration and designed the front and back covers. It took me a good three months to perfect the cover and the layout. I worked on it almost every night and on weekends playing with different typefaces, different effects, and positioning the elements in various locations until all the elements worked together to create the look and feel I was trying to communicate to readers.

The Writer's Edge: I write because...

The Writer's Edge: Responses to Why Do You Write?

Writer's responses to David Morrell's fascinating premise that writers write because of personal traumas that haunt them throughout their lives. Click on the link above to read the whole story.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Why Do You Write?

Ever since I read David Morrell's fascinating article Lessons from a Lifetime of Writing on Backspace I couldn't get the question out of my head, why does anyone write?

He basically says because writers have unresolved traumas that cause them to write. So I wrote him and asked if there could be writers without traumas. Here's
what he told me in an email:

"F. Scott Fitzgerald said there were no second acts in American lives. Applying this to writing, we could say that if a writer creates in relation to a trauma, he or she stops being creative when the trauma is resolved. This has been the case in a number of American writers. But for most of us, the traumas continue. For example, until 1987, I wrote in response to my father's death in WWII and the orphanage I was put in. But after 1987, I wrote in response to my son's death from bone cancer. I never do it deliberately, however. The stories insist."
If you don't know who David Morrell is, he is the award winning author of FIRST BLOOD, the novel that started the Rambo series.

So, I've been trying to determine my trauma, but it eludes me - I've been lucky most of my life - normal childhood, normal straight-arrow adulthood, living the American Dream. The best I could come up with is that I fear loss, but I have not had any major losses. Could there be levels of traumas that affect each of us differently? My losses are nothing compared to his, but could we both be affected the same way and hence have this need to write?

His response:
"The trauma need not be a violent dramatic one in the sense of child abuse or things of that nature. For an author friend, it was the death of his father when he was 8. He often writes about perfect summers of youth that are interrupted. Another author told me that he had a perfect childhood, and then he added, "But I got picked on a lot." He now writes about assassins righting wrongs.
The key questions are:
Why do I want to be a writer? The authentic answer to that is 'Because I need to be.' But why do I NEED to be? What accounts for the obsession?

The answer to that leads you to self-understanding. You said you 'fear loss.' That's an interesting statement and a major theme. You might never know why you fear loss. That's not the point. It's your core emotion and perhaps the reason that you tell stories.

Writers' block is possibly caused by 3 things.
1. The story is just no good, and the subconscious realizes it.
2. The author becomes anal retentive in the first draft and can't move from sentence to sentence.
3. The author doesn't listen to what the story wants to do. Our goal is to serve the story. We must open ourselves and let the story talk to us.

The latter is the best advice I can give to anyone."
Why do you write?

Note: A longer version of his Backspace article is available in his book on writing LESSONS FROM A LIFETIME OF WRITING, which will soon be re-released as THE SUCCESSFUL NOVELIST: A LIFETIME OF LESSONS ABOUT WRITING AND PUBLISHING. (From Source Books).

His latest novel, SCAVENGER is now available everywhere.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Sailing is a Lot Like Writing

After my interview with first time novelist Patry Francis, author of The Liar's Diary, I realized that she like many hopeful writers has gone through similar experiences.

It's like you decide you want to be a writer, but life gets in the way. I don't mean in a bad way - you pursue your career to make a living after you find you can't as a writer or get married, then have children, raise them, enjoy them and then you decide you have the time to write that novel you always wanted to write.

Patry like myself and others I'm sure knew as a child that we wanted to be writers, but life got in the way - she was a waitress for 25 years before The Liar's Diary was published, and she has a family and I'm writing my fourth unpublished novel after 25 years of my adult life and raising three children.

She called two earlier novels she wrote, her practice novels and this too seems to be a right of passage for all novelists. Stephen King wrote five novels before his first was published and Dean Koontz wrote four; John Grisham self published his first novel.

But I think there is more to this - you have to live life to have enough experiences to write a novel. I remember when I was 17 and I sat down to write a novel. The thoughts didn't come; the page remained blank and then I realized I didn't have anything to say. I hadn't lived long enough to form my unique view of the world - my writer's view of the world. In fact, the more I write the clearer my vision becomes and what I want to say.

Patry certainly had perseverance to keep her dream alive all of her life and she had the passion to follow through. It seems that this is what it takes to be a writer, a published writer because we are all writers; we all have a unique voice and a unique view of the world. Of all the advice I've received and read from published writers, agents, and others in the business the one thing they all said is to keep trying and never give up.

Passion will help you persevere, but you have to love what you do to sustain your efforts. Love drives everything. Years ago when I was into sailing and a good friend of mine, an older man who had sailed all his life said, "We must be crazy to be into sailing." What he meant was that it took so much time, effort, work, and expense to maintain our sailboats for those rare occasions when the wind, the water, and your skills to get the boat moving perfectly all worked harmoniously and you glided across the water effortlessly, freely, and in sync with nature. Those rare times were the Holy Grail of sailing and we all doggedly pursued it with an addiction that was unprecedented. It was the common thread that held all of us together like an extended family. It was simply love - love of what we were doing and it sustained us through the best and worst of times.

Writing is the same. There is a tremendous amount of time, effort, and doubt to produce the products of our craft, but we still do it despite the odds simply because we love to.

To catch the interview with Patry Francis, visit the Algonkian Writers Conferences site by clicking on The Literary Life and How to Live It.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Email or Snail Mail an Agent?

Ever wonder what literary agents prefer: an email or snail mail query for your novel or manuscript? I’ve expanded my earlier article, “Desperately Seeking an Agent” and have interviews with several New York literary agents and their thoughts on email verses snail mail queries.

One agent believes agents’ preference for email or snail mail is a generational issue. “First of all, opinions about email are definitely colored by generational considerations. Younger editors and agents prefer it as the communication method of choice to us older fogies …”

Take a look at the piece on the Algonkian Writers Conference site.

and see the best way to pitch your book – a must read for everyone seeking an agent.