Wednesday, December 8, 2010


I've been working on my first middle grade novel, The Shape I'm In, for over a year.  I wrote it, edited it, polished it, had it read by several people, revised it some more, and it's finally ready.  The whole process took a lot of time, but I'm proud of the results and I think kids will like it.

Now that it's "done" (well, until an editor gets a hold of it), it's time to find an agent for it.  Why an agent?  Because that's the way to get a fiction book published nowadays.  How do I know?  Because I've done some research.  So, how does one get an agent?  One writes a query letter.  What does that look like?  Okay, you get the point by now (I hope).

It took me over a year to write this book.  Wouldn't I be an idiot if I didn't do a little research into the publishing chain for books?  Wouldn't I be an idiot if I didn't read some blogs by agents to make sure I'm not the butt of one of their jokes (there's no guarantee that I won't be, but at least I'm trying)?  I find it very humorous that people will spend enormous amounts of time to write a book and then ten minutes dashing off a stupid letter to an agent asking them if they want to read it without a lick of research on the process.  It's just as funny that people will continually send the Query Shark a sample query that reads like crap, when there are almost 200 examples of queries already there to compare to their own.

I fully expect this next phase of the book to be more frustrating, depressing, and arduous than the writing of the book was in the first place.  Fortunately, I've got my work on my next book, my software work, my judo, and my family to keep my spirits up.  And I've done some work to give myself a leg up on the people who haven't done their homework.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Content or Style?

I'm participating in a bi-weekly writing workshop.  Last time, I read someones short story and had a criticism about the writers style.  Chris has written a story that used both present and past tense.  While I was reading it quickly, I found the first transition clumsy.  This, in turn, gave me the immediate impression of bad writing, even though Chris isn't a bad writer.  To me, it was a perfect example of style with respect to content.

To what effect should a writer use style to enhance the content?

This question has bothered me for a couple of weeks.  I'm a simple guy.  Not necessarily a simple writer, but I like things laid out so that I can read without stopping to parse complicated sentences, or ponder the tense of the writing.  Tell me an interesting story and let the writing tell me in the best way possible.  For me, that's usually a straightforward first or third person, past tense style of writing.  I think there's plenty of flexibility within that structure.  Half a million words in combination should give one a fair degree of creativity.

Some writers get so bogged down with style that they forget that the most important part of the story is the story.  If we all spent a little more time making the action creative and interesting, then maybe we wouldn't think about using style trickery to tell story.  I know I'd be a happier reader.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Open the Vent

Vent open.

I've recently joined a writing workshop that meets bi-weekly at a local park.  Other than a writing workshop class, this is my first experience with some folks that I don't know well.  They're a mixed bunch - nice people, younger and older, more and less experienced (like me).

For the second meeting in a row, I feel like I got pounded.  Yeah, I know I need it, but I think it's in the delivery.  I try to make my criticism sound constructive.  I try to point out some things that I liked about other people's words, even if I don't think they were that wonderful.  I've got a lot to learn.  I know this and I accept it.  I wouldn't read my stuff if I didn't need the feedback. 

Everyone's entitled to their opinion.  It's funny how much several people's opinions can vary.
Person 1: I hated that.  It was boring.
Person 2: I liked all the stuff that Person 1 hated.

Someone else's work is read.
Person 1: I loved that so much.
Me (thinking, but not saying it out loud): Really?  I wasn't impressed.

One thing I've noticed is that while most other people's works are laden with emotional detail, my writing is more action oriented.  It's something I'm working on:  making people care about my characters.  Here's what I wish other people would do with their writing: make the people in your stories do something.  I'm tired of reading short stories about the emotional wrenching of "insert character name here".  If something actually happens in the story that's interesting, maybe I'll care.  If I wasn't sitting in this group right now, expected to give you some feedback, I'd have found something else to read.  Do I really have to wade through 5, 8, or 10 pages of description (regardless of how good it is) only to find out that the story didn't have a twist or something interesting actually happen?

Sometimes I get the feeling that people forget that they're not just writing to entertain themselves.  They're supposed to entertain the reader.  Tell me that you don't like how I worded something or that my description is choppy.  Hmm, okay.  I think I'll look at that.  Tell me that you were bored because the writing wasn't entertaining or nothing happened?  I'm going to fix that immediately.

Finally, if I'm going to endeavor to bring something for feedback and you pound me, then bring me something you've written so I can see if you're worth taking the pounding from.  Harumph!

Vent closed.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Starting Something New

My first fiction attempt, a Middle Grade novel is currently in beta.  I have a couple people reading it, well hopefully they're actually reading it, and I need to find a couple more.  In the meantime, I've been tossing a couple of other book ideas around in my head.  The first one is a fictional memoir, but I haven't figured out some of the general things the protagonist has done, and I haven't figured out whether it's going to be in first or third person either.  I started in first person, just a page, but I'm having doubts.

My second idea is a thriller.  I started with a basic premise, based on a job that I had a few years ago, and have turned it into a novel about terrorists, software (technical details will be kept to a minimum), and an attempt to assassinate someone.  I'm not the greatest plot planner and don't want to do too much up front planning, but I jotted down a few ideas and couldn't see how I'd fill a book.  During an afternoon, I came up with a few more ideas and now, I may be able to pull it off.  I know this is just my typical up-front jitters about taking a new step on a new work.  Somehow I managed to create my Middle Grade novel and this one will come, too.  I started that less than a year ago and I've forgotten already that it, too, began with just a basic premise and took several weeks of writing and brainstorming to come to fruition.  This one will, too.  One thing I will be doing is reading a few more thrillers to see how other authors build the story, the tension, and the action.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Read a book or Why TV is losing me

I watch Good Morning America (GMA) every day while I make breakfast.  Some of it is interesting, but I realized a while ago that the amount of actual GMA is getting smaller.  The last 10 minutes of every half hour, for example is either commercials or local news.  If you've already seen the local news, then you're in for nothing but repeated information.  Then the commercials come on and they're designed to annoy the crap out of you.  If they're trying to sell me something then they're definitely missing the target.

If I hear another quirky female voice wailing about yogurt, hair products, Target, Apple, or anything else, I'm now more likely to scream at the TV, turn it off, and read a book than buy whatever they're hawking at the moment.

The sameness of TV shows is getting to me as well.  I feel like I've seen it before.  The new fall lineup - three new lawyer shows, four doctor/hospital shows, ABC announces another two "what the hell is going on" shows, 100 reality shows, blah blah blah.  The things that get me in front of a TV nowadays are things that are well-written with good characters, and something I haven't seen already - Burn Notice, 24 - or maybe something that's a really well done retread like House or The Closer.

Still, at commercial time, the mute button is my friend.  And once I'm tired of the sameness or the irritation, or even if I'm just in the mood to really get absorbed in my entertainment, I pick up whatever I'm reading at the moment.  I really should do it more often; we all should.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

To Fish or Cut Bait

Since I started writing fiction, I've been studying the art.  I started in the library and checked out several books on writing, some of which resonated with me, while others did not.  The first one I read was "No plot, no problem".  Before I realized that it was also the manifesto for National Novel Writing Month, I found some great advice starting with "just get started and let your characters do the work for you."  (That's not an exact quote, just my takeaway.)  More recently, I read Stephen King's "On Writing" (brilliant, by the way and probably my favorite book on writing) and just read a passage in Dean Koontz's book "Relentless" that both eschew the practice of outlining.

I come from a software engineering career, which I still work at, and there are similarities to the way I like to work.  I have never enjoyed long spans of planning before implementing my software.  If I did, I always ended up finding a better way once I got started, so planning exhaustively seemed a waste of time.  That's not to say that a little planning wasn't useful, I just never found it of value to do all of the planning, then all of the implementing.  I'm a creative person, so I always thought of more creative implementations and often better functionality than was originally planned.

I'm finding the same thing is applying to my writing.  I do a little planning, then some implementation.  If I've planned ahead, I often find that when I'm writing, I come up with something better than my original plan.  If I run into a block, I take a walk and let my mind wander for while.  Often, something occurs to me that's way better than my original plan.  The subconscious mind is a magical thing.

I have a good friend who's the planning type.  We had lunch and I asked how his book was coming.  He told me that he'd been outlining it (over 100 pages of detailed outline) for 6 years.  In addition, he'd been working on improving his writing skills.  While I'm looking forward to reading his book one day, I can't help wondering where he'd be if he'd just started writing it 6 years ago.  In less than one year of writing fiction, I already had two drafts of my first novel.  It may take me another year or two to get it right - I know my writing has certainly improved since the first draft - but I have something to show for my work.  I have something reviewable, workable, and can take pride in it.

When is the last time you bought a software specification over working software?  When is the last time you went to the bookstore and bought an outline instead of a finished book?  I'm not saying that outlines are worthless, for some people they are essential.  For me, they are a way to get started.  The key is to be unafraid to start.  Once you do, you have a chance to finish.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

All About Me

We live in an in-your-face world nowadays.  I don't think it was always this way.  It seems like it has become moreso in the past couple of decades.  Young people (especially teens) have this "It's all about me" attitude.  It's not universal, by any means.  There are still plenty of humble, philanthropic young people.  Maybe they just get drowned out by the fanfare of the others who do blow their own horns. 

It can be hard for some people to constantly live in the shadows of the horn-blowers.  For one thing, it frequently baffles one why they're so high on themselves in the first place.  When observed objectively, they're often no funnier, smarter, prettier, or more talented than everyone else.  The air about them, on the other hand, merely gives the illusion that their talents fit their presentation.  It's funny that although they might not measure up, their optimism and self-opinion seldom wane, even in the face of an ultimately ordinary life.

For those who live on the humbler side, after a while, as one goes through life, it becomes necessary to take up a horn occasionally to obtain deserved recognition, a job, a raise, etc.  I admire those people whose accomplishments speak for themselves; whose proof of deserving praise is concrete and not just a repeated assertion that they deserve it simply because they say so.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010


My second prototype was much better than the first.  I made the board much simpler, and added more spaces from which players had to pick a card.  It's the cards that cause the interesting stuff to happen along the way and without them constantly entering the action, it wasn't very interesting.  I tried playing it by myself and actually thought it was fun.

Over the weekend, I snagged the family into playing it.  We had some laughs (the whole point of a family board game as far as I'm concerned) and found some more flaws, but on the whole, it was much closer.  I'm now working on my third prototype with a cleaner board layout and next, I have to work on the rules and making sure that the money works out reasonably.  After another round by myself and the family, I'll try it out with some of my creative writing cohorts at TC3.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Bored Games - 2

Did I mention in my previous post that game development isn't easy?  I should have - it's not easy.  You might start with an interesting concept and a cool drawing, but the proof is in the game play.  Today, I laid out the board with pieces, money, cards - everything.  I played the role of 3 players by myself.  After about 20 minutes, it was clear that changes were necessary.  I made the changes and tried it again.  Another 20 minutes and it's once again clear that more changes are needed.

I'm back to the drawing board with some new ideas to simplify the board, make the goals a little less specific and the hazards more easily invoked in an effort to keep the game moving.  It sucks when your own game is boring, but if you don't like it yet, it isn't ready for prime time.  Soon it will be just right.  I believe in the concept, but so far, it's not entering the gameplay, which defeats the purpose.

Another shot at it tomorrow.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Bored Games - 1

This past weekend I invented a new board game.  The idea hit me on Friday night and I ran to the computer to jot it down so I wouldn't forget it.  Much to my wife's chagrin, I became obsessed with it and spent most of the weekend with my sketchpad, doodling designs and ideas for the rules.  On the other hand, she came up with some great ideas to help flesh it out, too - she's a great brain-stormer.  Then I hit the computer with my old copy of Actrix 2000* and worked out the details of the board.  I've since printed out everything and I'm just waiting for a time to test the prototype with my wife and daughter.  I'll tell you more about the game when I've got it nailed down better.

When I started to write fiction last fall, I started reading books differently.  I didn't just read them, but I started to analyze how the authors brought me into the world.  How did they mix action with description?  How much detail was there?  Like my last game (a card game that's sitting in a basket - it wasn't bad, just not great), this game made me think about how other games work.  What makes them good or bad, fun or boring.  I started to think about the pros and cons of various games:
  • Monopoly - one of the best games ever invented.  Pros: Not too complicated, so anyone can play. Strategy matters.  Element of chance makes it unpredictable and exciting.  Cons: Takes forever to play a game.  You need to be in the mood for several hours of game play.
  • Life - Pros: Not too complicated.  Educational for kids.  Cons: Very little unpredictability.  Very little strategy.  Dull for adults.
  • Risk - Pros: Strategy matters.  Element of chance makes it unpredictable and exciting.  Cons: Takes forever to play a game.  Screw up your strategy at the beginning of the game and you play a long, agonizing game where you know you're doomed.
  • Pictionary, Cranium - Pros: Fun for groups.  Even bad artists can play.  Lots of laughs.  Cons:  Need at least four people to play and more is better.
  • Specialized Games with wordplay, etc. - Some are fun, some wear thin after the novelty is gone.  Also, the larger your vocabulary, the better you do, like Scrabble.
  • There are tons more, but you get the idea.
For me, a great game has strategy, a short learning curve, unpredictability, and the chance to mess up your opponents.  It generates laughs.  It doesn't take hours to play a single game and doesn't get boring.  It doesn't require you to buy an expansion pack with more stock questions (think Go to the Head of the Class or Trivial Pursuit (although this is a great, classic game)).  Two of my favorites are Labyrinth (board game) and Rat-a-tat-cat (a card game).  Both are simple, strategic, can be played with 3 people and it's still fun, let you mess with your opponents, don't require any special intelligence or training, generate laughs, and can be played inside of an hour.

I've wasted enough time and money looking for games like this.  I hope my latest one accomplishes these goals.  We'll see.  I'll keep you in the loop.  If you know of any that I haven't found yet, let me know.  I'm always looking.

*Actrix 2000 is a diagramming product I helped develop years ago when I worked for Autodesk.  I still find uses for it and I'm constantly amazed at how good it is for a variety of tasks.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

In the Beginning

I've been writing about software for a couple of years on my other blogs ( and judo (, but I wanted another outlet for my creative side.  I'm going to endeavor to write in a way that doesn't make me sound like a know it all.  I must admit that I read blogs and other writings from people who think they're qualified to give advice on a variety of topics due to their months of experience in their field.  In the field of software, I've got 22 years of professional work under my belt.  In judo, over 30 years.  In the field of writing and other creative ventures?  Just a couple.  So, I'm not going to try to pass myself off as an expert.  I might share a discovery or a thought, but until I've had some real success in the field, let's consider me an imaginary.

Welcome to my little world.