It was a busy week, but I was able to get the 4H Creative Writing projects in just under the wire. Don't let anyone tell you judging is easy, especially in an area that can be so subjective. If I was a sports judge, I suppose I'd rather be in track and field rather than figure skating, for instance.

What makes it harder is that there are three categories: beginner, intermediate, and why the heck wasn't I that good in high school? You can't judge them by the same standards; it would be like failing a fourth grader because he couldn't do advanced trigonometry, which is maybe a bad example because I never could do advanced trigonometry. I don't even know what it is. I'm still trying to figure out what x equals.

My problem is that I tend to go too easy, out of empathy for how I might have reacted to a harsh comment at that age. (Hint: I had very low self esteem.) But in trying to balance that, I worry about being too hard on the writers. They need to know if they have weak areas to be worked on, but they don't need me turning into that jerk chef on those cooking shows. So I try to be--I don't know--gentle, but guiding. All this stressing myself out is also why I struggle to do book reviews.

In any case, I've never seen a single 4H entry that didn't show potential for great works to come. That's exactly the kind of thing the world needs: imagination, industry, interest, and literacy. Which comes awfully close to the 4H motto of head, hands, heart, and health.

ozma914: mustache Firefly (mustache)
( Jul. 2nd, 2017 09:45 am)

I'm taking a little break from the internet for a week or so (well, to an extent), because I've got 4H entries to judge. To many people I suppose that means judging animals, but 4H also has a creative writing challenge; it turns out they needed an experienced, knowledgeable, creative writer to judge the entries. But they couldn't find one, so for the last few years they've used me.

These are young writers in different categories, ranging from elementary to high school. Some of them are much better than I was at their age ... and some are as good as I am now, which is fine except I have decades of experience over them. It's nice to know there are still young people who take writing seriously!

Zora Marie talked to me about author's stuff on her blog this week:

Among other things we discussed time, inspiration, dogs vs. dragons, and marrying book cover designers.
ozma914: new novel cover art by Kelly Martin (Default)
( Sep. 30th, 2016 05:25 pm)
Writers have seasons. Often it’s the season of our discontent.
It’s revision and editing season for me—which is nowhere near as much fun as writing season, but more fun than submission season. Submission season is like living in International Falls, Minnesota during winter, only without the certainty that spring will someday arrive.
But it’s been productive, and kept me away from politics on the internet.
I made numerous revisions to Coming Attractions, most suggested by the editor who last rejected the manuscript, and it’s definitely better for it.  I did not make the major revision they suggested. That means I can’t resubmit to them, but I can still chalk it up as kind of a free editorial service. The glass is half full.
Meanwhile, I’d thought I was mostly done with Beowulf: In Harm’s Way, a science fiction story that may, or may not, be space opera. (There are violent disagreements over the definition.) I started out to just check the polished manuscript for mistakes, and discovered it wasn’t so very as polished, after all.
When a writer puts a manuscript away for a while and then comes back to it, all sorts of problems will pop up that were invisible in the heat of the moment. (Summer?) That was the case here, and I spent weeks revising. Now I need to polish and check for mistakes yet again, then give it to someone else who will, no doubt, find still more mistakes.
Then will come … submission season. However, that’s better than promotion season. Sometimes, during promotion season, I feel as if I’m standing in the middle of a quiet residential area in the middle of the night, screaming my lungs off. You want to attract interest, not annoyance.
Well, life is less bland when it’s seasoned.


To continue discussing the rejection of my novel Coming Attractions (What? You’ve got an appointment with a supermodel?) It might be a good idea if you knew what the book is about:

In the darkness of an Indiana drive-in movie theater, Maddie McKinley returns from the concession stand, climbs into the wrong van, and gets tackled by the father of the kids inside. Logan Chandler is embarrassed about roughing her up, but also intrigued by the beautiful young woman from Boston, who arrived alone at the movies wearing an expensive dress. Unfortunately, he’s the local businessman leading a battle to save the drive-in from developers--and she’s the attorney sent to make sure it’s torn down.

See, there’s your back cover blurb. Coming Attractions was actually outlined, and some of the first draft written, at the Auburn-Garrett drive-in theater. My kids and I liked to get there early to grab the best spot, and we brainstormed this book while people-watching and hitting the popcorn.

Over the years I’ve made many changes. The biggest came at the request of a major romance publisher, when the editor agreed to take another look if I made revisions. I did so, the biggest being splitting up a climactic scene and moving part of it closer to the end of the book. In the end they still rejected it, saying Maddie wasn’t a relatable heroine: They thought she came across as “very snobby and rather unlikable”. Also, the word hoity-toity was used.

In the opening scene Maddie has just finished an exhausting flight from Boston. She feels she’s been exiled to Indiana, after a very bad public breakup with her boyfriend—a partner in her firm. She’s in career purgatory, and she’s doing grunt work, and it’s the low point of her adult life. So yeah, she’s not sunshine and puppy dogs.

But it doesn’t matter what an author intends; you can’t go explaining your intentions to each individual reader. (Well, you can, but you’ve got another book to write, fella.) I thought I’d made her more sympathetic in edits, but apparently not enough.

I won’t go into detail on the second editor’s rejection letter. Much of what the editor had to say made sense, and will be addressed before I move on. But there was one thing.

Over the years the rules for romance novels have loosened quite a bit, and there’s not such a cookie cutter approach to what is and isn’t allowed. But there’s one big trope the industry as a whole sticks to: When the couple acknowledges their love for each other, the story is over.

In other words, the primary story in a romance is the romance. Not the mystery, not the adventure, not the legal thriller. No matter how many balls you have in the air, once the path to the couple’s happily ever after looks clear, the juggling is over.

No matter how much Maddie and Logan love each other, there are huge issues in the way of their happiness. For complicated reasons, it’s way more than just business for either of them. The story’s climax is a sometimes comic court battle, ending with a scene I love so much deleting it would be the very definition of the cliché “kill your darlings”.

The thing is, the only way I could have them refuse to acknowledge their feelings for each other would be if Logan blamed her personally, but that’s not who Logan is. Meanwhile, Maddie would have to keep hiding things from Logan, and she prides herself on her honesty.

So the characters talk it out. There’s still a whole battle in which they’re on opposite sides, but that doesn’t keep them from acknowledging their feelings.

I reject that a romance story has to stop the moment they say “I love you, we’ll figure it out”. I think it can go on through the figuring it out stage, and still be interesting, and romantic.

Does that make sense? ‘Cause this is getting way long.

There’s a place for stories that don’t fit the conventional outline, so I’m considering self-publishing Coming Attractions. I’d rather get a contract with one of the big publishers, to get into bookstores and not do all the work myself. (By myself, I mean my wife does a lot of the work.) I could go to small publishers too, although that doesn’t guarantee the bookstore part. But I believe in this story.

I know some people are firmly on one side or another of the self vs. traditional publishing debate, but maybe this is one of those books self-publishing was originally made for. What do you think?


When you’re a writer, just being able to sit at the keyboard (or pen) may help save your sanity in these troubled times. (#WorstNovemberEver) So even though we’re halfway through National Novel Writing Month, I wanted to pass on Grammarly’s list of five writing mistakes to watch out for:


Thanks to Grammarly for the tips:


Since NaNoWriMo is something of a headlong rush, these tips might count more toward the next, and just as important, phase in your novel: editing. But editing the third draft of my latest book is exactly my task for this fall, and you should be halfway to finishing your first draft anyway, so it works!


I wrote about three thousand words on a short story during my “writer’s retreat” at Pokagon State Park yesterday. The real reason for me being there is for a later time, but it was perfect weather for hanging around outside. At Pokagon you can do that at a picnic table, on the beach, in isolated spots or public shelters, or just sitting in the car looking over the scenery.

I’d planned to work on my new book project, which I’ll also explain at a later time, but I hadn’t gotten the research sources around for it and didn’t have internet (which is one of the reasons why it’s good for writing). Instead I started on a story idea that came to me while I was mowing the lawn. Nice weather is clearly good for my creative juices.

There was also a 45 minute walk and a short nap in the car, and they were probably both good for me. I might have to do some cutting later; at 3,500 words and only two thirds done, “short” story is just as expression.
Writer's problems: I woke up this morning from a dream and, by the time I finished relating it to Emily, we turned it into a full fledged idea for a humorous spy novel. Now I just have to finish my current book project and the other story ideas we get every week.  Need more time!

I was invited along on a blog tour ride by my writer friend Mari Collier, who was raised in Iowa and yet isn’t dull at all. Thanks for the extra work, Mari – sheesh. But anyone who writes SF, historical fiction, and humor is worth the effort. She now lives in California, yet isn’t strange at all.


Unfortunately, due to finalizing the details on The No-Campfire Girls and life in general, I haven’t had the time to get this out, and today I realized I hadn’t recruited anyone to follow it. Instead, I picked a few blogs from among writer friends and highlighted them at the end of this, but I didn’t find anyone to answer the questions themselves, and I hope some of you will take up the reins and continue this on.



1.       What Am I Working On?


A sandwich, at the moment. Oh, you mean writing? We’re finishing the setup for my second self-published effort, The No-Campfire Girls, a YA humor/adventure set in a girl’s summer camp. Why self-published? Because a portion of the proceeds from the book’s sale will go toward Camp Latonka, the Girl’s Scout camp my wife attended and then worked at.

            I’m waiting to see the cover art of The Notorious Ian Grant, which Whiskey Creek Press is publishing in October. Meanwhile, I’m plugging away at a book of my columns and Beowulf: In Harm’s Way, a SF story that pokes a little fun at the space opera genre. I have a million ideas in a dozen genres, all in varying degrees of development, and just need more time.



2.       How Does My Work Differ From Others of Its Genre?


Which genre? Well, I tend to inject more humor into my works—the world needs more humor—but not in a mocking or parody way. I take my situations lightly, and my characters seriously. It’s as if Isaac Asimov and Douglas Adams had a baby, and … who knows? I never pried into their personal lives.



3.       Why Do I Write What I Do?


Why not? But basically I write what I like to read, which is how it should be with all writers. I love science fiction, and I like a good romance that’s infused with humor, and I’m always up for some intelligent action, if you can picture that.



4.       How Does My Writing Process Work?


I start by thinking, which is far too lacking in today’s society. What if? What then? Routine chores are a perfect time for that: Mowing the lawn, showering, home maintenance, first aid after home maintenance … that’s where I work out the ideas in my head.

Then I do an outline; I have a whole box full of unfinished manuscripts to show I’ll never be a successful pantser. By the way, when I was a kid “pantser” meant a whole different thing. My outlines are devoid of Roman numerals, and full of side notes, parenthesis (I’m famous for my parenthesis), and the occasional exclamation point as an idea hits me. It’s just a scribbled narrative, really, and subject to change at any time—I just need a road map with a destination, and nothing keeps me from exploring a side road as long as the destination is in mind.

Beside that are detailed character outlines, and often other research material. I know what my characters want, need, what they’re afraid of, what they like for lunch, their hobbies, political outlooks or lack thereof—and although many of those details never make it to the story, they makes the characters real for me. Which is why they often go running off onto those side roads I mentioned, surprising me as much as the reader.

Then I write. That’s the fun part. Give me a place to sit and enough room to break out my laptop, and there’s my office. Except the bathtub—there are logistical problems to writing in the bathtub.

And, although I go back and read through the previous day’s work at every writing session, my stories are always in for five or six polishings before anyone else sees them, because that’s how I roll. And if you’ve ever tried to roll while revising, you know it’s a challenge.


            Here are a few other blogs from friends of mine, more or less at random but chosen from Blogspot because I’m lazy:

            William Kendall has that rare ability to make you laugh even if you’re a fan of what he’s making fun of. He likes winter and hates musicals, but nobody’s perfect.

            Kelly Hashway writes speculative fiction, or so I speculate, and has already done the tour—no guilt trip here for her.

            Rosanne Dingli is a writer of rich writing who also writes about writing, right?

Say it three times fast … take a chance.


            Yes, I cheated on this assignment to a degree, but I just finished proofreading my new book proof and now I’m sending off for another proof to prove I’m ready to publish. As you can probably tell by the last couple of paragraphs, I’m also very tired.


ozma914: new novel cover art by Kelly Martin (Default)


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