Category Archives: Writing

Getting Up Again

I reached a milestone yesterday: I finished a novel.

Let me explain. Yes, if you look on the sidebar, you’ll see I have novels for sale. And yes, they are finished novels. So what’s the big deal?

A little something called a slump. Or writer’s block. Take your choice.

A few years back, as I was writing my fourth novel about Lyle Villines (part of the Rural Empires setting with a working title of Hillbilly Hunt), I was shopping the novel Startup around to agents in New York. One of the submissions was to Aaron Priest, who rejected it, but didn’t send me a form rejection. He said that he loved the writing, but didn’t feel like anything happened for about the first one hundred pages.

Knowing it was against etiquette, I wrote back, asking if he would take another look (all while pointing out I knew it was against etiquette) if I rewrote that first part. The answer came from an assistant, who said she would read the rewrite, and if she judged it good enough, she’d forward it to Mr. Priest.

Fair enough. More than fair, in fact.

Long story short, I was rejected again. And I could see no way around it.

Now, to be fair, Mr. Priest did point out, in his original rejection notice, that this was his opinion only and another agent might well pick it up.

But I had stars in my eyes. Aaron Priest is Robert Crais’s agent—and Robert Crais is one of my favorite authors. Who wouldn’t want to share an agent with one of your heros?

The second rejection did something to me, and in the ensuing years, writing has been hard to do. I know it’s mental, that I need to find a way around it. Add to that the fact the novel I finished is a mystery—my first—and that compounded everything. I’ve never written a mystery, and they require some finesse. You don’t want to give it away, but you don’t want it to be impossible for the reader to solve, either. It’s a fine line you have to walk.

I kept getting closer and closer, but I’d write a passage or two, then stop for months (or longer) before I went back to it. I had to drag the last quarter or more of the novel out kicking and screaming.

Then, last week, my mentor died. I wrote about him in my last post. I won’t revisit all that, but I will say this: when Dusty Richards died, he’d written over 160 novels.

Let that sink in for a minute. One hundred and sixty.

Dusty’s philosophy? Keep writing.

No matter what happens in your life, keep writing. You’re a writer, so write. It’s that simple. He cranked out three or four books a year that way. Yes, they were westerns and some of them were short. But not all of them. Not by any means.

His dying changed something in me, something more than what happens when you lose someone who means that much to you. I realized that all the people Dusty had ever encouraged to keep writing were his legacy. And that most definitely included me.

I had to make him proud of the time he’d invested in me and others. Yes, many of them no doubt gave up. Make no mistake, this is a tough business, and you have to grow a thick skin. You’ll see far more rejection than you will acceptance.

But, as Dusty admonished so many budding writers, keep writing. Why? Because it’s your dream. Not everyone is cut out for this. Heck, not everyone who writes should be doing it. Let’s be honest here. But many, possibly most, are. And even those who can’t write very well yet will improve if they fall in with the right people, people who give them constructive criticism and encouragement.

And above all, keep writing.

Chances are, if you keep at it, you’ll run into a situation similar to mine, where you hit a wall and have trouble putting words on paper. Maybe life interferes. Maybe you get sent to Eastern Europe to spy on the Russians (if you do, mine that shit for stories). Maybe you have your first child. Maybe someone important to you dies. Maybe the rejection notices keep piling up and you wonder if it’s worth it to keep doing this.

Whatever the cause, for some reason, you can’t write. It doesn’t happen to everyone, but it happens to enough of us that there are endless articles about it and methods to deal with it.
The simplest solution is to do as Dusty told so many of us.

Keep writing.

I don’t care if it’s recipes, or crap you delete the next day, a frown of disgust on your face. And maybe you do it again the next day. And the next. And the next.

The point is, you’re doing something creative, and eventually it’ll turn into something you read, then nod to yourself and think, I’m keeping this.

It has taken me two, maybe three years to finish Animal Sacrifice, despite knowing, in general, how it was supposed to end (if your read this blog regularly, you’ll know I’m what’s called a pantser—I don’t outline my novels). I wrote some other things in between. I have a couple other novels started, and I managed to crank out a few short stories to keep the creative juices flowing at least to an extent.

But Animal Sacrifice sat there in its file, mocking me, it seemed. I knew what needed to happen, but getting the words out was all but impossible.

And yet, I kept writing.

Why?

Well, I have four finished novels prior to this. That’s proof I can do it. And it means I can do it more than once. Plus, I believe in this story, think it’s a good one, and it needs to see the light of day. Yes, there will be rewrites to turn it into a real mystery a toddler can’t solve in the first twenty pages, but the straight-line story is there, and it’s a good one. I say that without ego.

But I also saw my mentors, Dusty and Velda Brotherton—the two who started the writing group I’m a member of—turning out books, no matter what went on in their lives. Dusty spent a month in the hospital with pneumonia last spring.

He kept writing once he was out.

Velda has lost her husband, and her health has put her in a wheelchair.

She keeps writing.

That’s inspiration, folks. That’s drive.

That’s what we need to emulate.

I finished my novel, regardless of how hard it was to write. So go out there and finish yours, and finish the one after that, and the one after that, ad infinitum.
Keep writing.

Later,
Gil

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The Passing of a Legend

I’ve been quiet over the holidays for a couple of reasons. Partly, because it was the holidays. But mostly… well, you’ll see.

About ten years ago, I walked into a writers group in Fayetteville, Arkansas. I was ready to get serious about the writing, ready to improve my craft. I can’t remember now how I heard about this particular group, at least not this time. I’d heard of it once before from a friend, but I guess I wasn’t ready for it yet, wasn’t ready to let strangers see my work.

But by then I was. I’d worked on a space opera, had written quite a bit of it, and wanted to see what others thought. I was arrogant and timid all at the same time. Part of me thought I was gonna knock em dead—that audacious part that every writer has to possess to have the courage to put his words out there for somebody. But the majority of me just hoped I would be up to snuff.

I knew no one there. I sat at one end of the group of tables in a room they used in the Good Shepherd Lutheran Church. A member of that church was also a member of the workshop, and that’s how they had access to this building.

I had no idea how fortunate I was to happen on this group. The two who ran it, Dusty Richards and Velda Brotherton, had been published in New York, Velda years ago under a pen name just before the bottom fell out, and Dusty under his own name, writing westerns.

I’d known of Dusty since I was a teenager. I’d worked an FFA rodeo once in I think it was tenth grade, and Dusty was the announcer. He was a local celebrity even then, appearing on a regional morning show, doing the farm report. He’d been a biology teacher at my alma mater, Huntsville High School, as well as a field man for Tyson, traveling around to the chicken farms, helping them raise better chickens.

Over the next decade—or close to it—I stayed faithful in that writers group, and I came to know Dusty more. He became a mentor, a friend, a father figure, especially after my own father died. Time after time, I watched him encourage new writers, and he always told them the same thing: It’s good. There are problems, but don’t worry about that. Just write. Get the story out. You can fix it later.

There were times when I wondered how he could do that, because I thought some of them were horrible writers. But Dusty never said that, never discouraged a single one of them, regardless of their quality. I think perhaps he could see something the rest of us—or at least that I—couldn’t see: the potential of every writer to become more than they were when they walked into the group.

I watched a lot of writers come and go, and Dusty never failed to encourage them. He had a heart, as my boss Casey Cowan says, bigger than the western skies he wrote about. He was generous to a fault, and optimistic like few people I’ve known. To once again steal from Casey, Dusty woke up every day thinking of it as a new opportunity.

On December 19, Dusty and his wife Pat were on their way home from a lunch meeting with Casey and the Oghma business manager, Venessa Cerasale, when he apparently passed out and left the road. He crossed oncoming traffic—luckily not hitting anyone else, and, in one of life’s ironies, the Ranch Boss—as we affectionately called him—crashed through the fence of a horse pen.

I’ll spare you the medical details, but suffice it to say he and Pat lingered a time longer, and even looked to be improving briefly.

Then came the news that Pat had died.

To say we were shocked is an understatement. Pat was Dusty’s rock. As loud and boisterous as he could be, she was the only one who could control him, the only one who could rein him in. She was a quiet influence in his life, his bride of fifty-six years. While he was the center of attention, Pat would sit off to the side, reading her romance novels, the only kind I ever saw in her hands. Bodice rippers, as they’re known. She loved them, but I never really heard her talk about them.

Pat died January 10th. Dusty followed her on the 18th. Immediately after the wreck, he was in a coma, and once he woke up, he sometimes knew himself, sometimes didn’t. But, as another friend of mine said, I believe his spirit knew Pat was gone. Two days later, he was moved into hospice care, and we all knew it was a matter of time.

That’s Dusty’s story. But there’s more.

As I mentioned above, Dusty became so much more than that guy at the writers group for me. I had the honor of riding to Cheyenne, Wyoming in June of 2016 with him for the annual Western Writers of American convention. I drove him to hospital when Pat had to go a couple days before we were due to leave. She stayed Friday night, Saturday, and into Sunday morning. We left Cheyenne, made it to Hayes, Kansas, where she had to go back in the hospital. This time, they found the real problem, and she was able to continue home the next day.

But while we sat in the waiting room at Cheyenne, Dusty leaned over and said, “Gil, I hear you’re having money problems.” I was. I worked part-time then, twenty-four hours a week at nine dollars an hour, two twelve-hour shifts on the weekend. I was effectively giving up an entire week’s paycheck to go to the conference, but was determined I wouldn’t miss it.

I explained this to Dusty. He pulled out his wallet, handed me one hundred dollars.

“You take this,” he said. “Use it for whatever you need. Don’t worry about paying me back for it.”

And then, not two months later, he had me meet him at Best Buy and bought me a laptop when he saw I had no way to write if I wasn’t at home. On the way out of the store, he said, “Me and Pat talked about it, and we decided you needed to have that to help you write.”

I tell this as a way to show you how generous, how giving, this man was. He gave, and didn’t ask for anything in return.

After the accident, when we posted news of the wreck on the Oghma Facebook page, I happened to go there to look at another post and saw that one. Over seven hundred comments, and I’m told there were thousands of views. I’d known Dusty was a celebrity, but I had no idea he was that well known. I scrolled through the posts, and comment after comment had to do with how generous he and Pat were, how they’d helped this person or that one in some way or another. One even posted that her family wouldn’t have their farm if not for Dusty and Pat.

It’s been a hard few weeks. I think the conferences will be a lot different without Dusty and his loud laugh. There’ll be something missing from them. But his legacy will live on. We intend to see to that, finding a way to give back to this man who gave so much to so many, a way to keep his generous legacy going.

In the spirit of that audaciousness I first exhibited by going to that writing group, I’m going to do my best to step into Dusty’s shoes and encourage new writers, do my best to help them set their feet on the path he helped so many travel, including me.

Knowing Dusty Richards was an honor, one I didn’t fully realize until this happened. I don’t know if I can ever approach his generosity, his optimism, but I’ll do my best and try, because he had faith in me, believed I was a good writer. I will cherish every memory I have of him, and every time I help a writer, it’ll be in his name, for his legacy. Not mine.

The Ranch Boss is gone. A legend has passed from this earth, a legend I had the distinct honor to know. I believe we all go to whatever we envision to be heaven, and I’m sure Dusty is sitting around a prairie campfire somewhere, spinning tales as he always did, conversing with his hero Zane Grey, and I’m sure people like Luke Short, Max Brand, Louis L’Amour, and who knows who else, are sitting around that campfire, each taking his turn, telling tales to one another the likes of which we’ll never know. At least not until we join them.

Adios, my friend. You had a long ride, and a good one. I’ll miss you, and so will so many more. My heart is heavy, even though I know you’d want me to smile. The pain is sharp now, but it’ll fade, and I’ll be left with so many good memories.

And I’ll tell the stories like you did, passing them along to a new generation of writers, so they’ll know what kind of man you were.

My friend. My mentor. My second father.

Hold a spot for me at that campfire. I want to hear more stories.

Later,
Gil

A World Without What?

I subscribe to Shelf Awareness, an online book review site (best way I know to describe it) that sends out emails twice a week informing you of select new books. I always look at this email, and I’ve discovered several new and interesting books this way. Generally, I’ll jump from the email to my local library’s site to see if they have a copy of a book that looks interesting. If they do, I’ll request it.

This week, they reviewed a book called A World Without Whom by Emmy J. Favilla, who is the Buzzfeed Copy Chief (my strikethrough is an attempt to mirror the book, which has a graphic of the editor’s strikeout mark there). Not only does Shelf Awareness review the book, they also interview Emmy about why she wrote the book.

At first reading, I was somewhat supportive of what she says. After all, we don’t want to get stuck in the past. Language is an evolving, living thing, even more so in this age of Internet slang such as LOL and so forth. And let’s not forget the way we used to have to text.

But…

Yes, there’s a but. Of course there is.

I posted a link to that interview to my publishing company’s, er, company chat on Messenger, thinking it would get a few comments.

Instead, I practically stirred up a hornets’ nest, and it wasn’t favorable to Emmy’s opinions.

Which is good.

To be fair, I only gave the interview—and book review—a cursory read at first. As an editor, I’m always looking to see if I can learn anything from other editors. But this one, on the surface, didn’t seem to have much to offer. After a bit deeper read of the interview, I reserved a copy at the library—I doubt the book is worth buying no matter what, especially on my budget—just to see what it was all about. And I still intend to at least skim it. To quote my wife, you need to know your enemy.

Basically, Ms. Favilla says that, as editors in this modern age, we should feel free to pretty much ignore what we were taught—or, in her words, “…feel a sense of relief and freedom from the sort of rules that have been ingrained in us since grammar school”—and just go with what your heart tells you.

More telling is this quote: “It’s really more important to ruminate on stuff like ‘Is this an exclusive way to talk about all genders?’ than ‘Does this comma go here?’”

In other words, politically correct editing.

Again, to be fair, she does say: “But there are certain ways in which I’m still a bit of a stickler: I don’t think we should totally ignore conventions about grammar, punctuation, spelling and other things that make it easier for readers to understand a piece of writing.”

So what exactly are you saying, Ms. Favilla? Because what I’m reading sounds contradictory at the very least. Or, as one of the comments on our chats stated: Anyone can claim to be the new standard. Anyone with brains will look around and see truth.

What he said ^.

Look, keeping up with the times is all well and good. For instance, when it first surfaced, the word email was hyphenated: e-mail. In fact, if I remember correctly, it was also capitalized: E-mail. Now, the more commonly accepted spelling is email, though there are still those who hyphenate it. Which is fine and dandy. Just pay attention to the publication’s style guide.

But folks, as onerous as they can be at times, the standards are there for a reason. In a language that pronounces words like rough and though in markedly different ways, those standards are essential. If you can’t be understood, you’re not communicating. You’re practicing mental masturbation.

If you don’t put the comma in the right place, I might not be able to understand what you’re saying about genders in the first place.

Later,
Gil

I Lost My Wife to NaNoWriMo

I’m an NaNoWriMo widower… at least to an extent.

If you’re not familiar with NaNoWriMo—or can’t remember when I’ve talked about it before (I sympathize, believe me)—NaNoWriMo is internetspeak for National Novel Writing Month, and you can find out more about it at nanowrimo.org. The simple definition is this: you write 50,000 words in a month. The aim is to write a short, completed novel, though some begin early and use that crunch to finish—or at least get close to finishing—a novel. It happens every November. The idea behind this is to get the story down on paper. Don’t edit. Don’t polish. Just write. What my wife calls word vomit.

Yes, we’re back to my wife again.

See, I got married in July to the woman I’ve spent my life looking for. Less than four months later, she’s writing a cozy mystery for NaNoWriMo. In and of itself, I love the idea, and I’m fully supportive. But as I write this, it’s November 7th, and I miss her already.

See, to achieve this goal, she has to write an average of 1,667 words a day (50,000 ÷ 30 = 1,666.66667, for you math nerds), and she has to do this in the evenings after she gets home from her day job (you know, that nasty thing we writers have to have to do things like eat food). And that means she has very little time to spend with… me.

I know: cry me a river.

Though this post is largely tongue-in-cheek, I have to be honest and reiterate that I support her fully. Way back when we reconnected (my wife and I once knew one another more years ago than I care to talk about), during the catch-up stage, I told her I was a writer and had four books published. She admitted that had been a dream of hers all her life.

See how we’re so well-matched?

But here’s the thing: she saw my writing, and that of the people I associate with, and I think it intimidated her. After that initial mention of wanting to be a writer, she didn’t bring it up again.

And that bothered me.

See, I’d read some of her Facebook posts. And thesis papers. And I knew she could write, if she’d just give herself permission to. But I had trouble convincing her of that.

I stayed patient, though, not because I’m a saint, but because every writer in history has been there: we want to write, but have no confidence in our abilities to do so. We want to be (insert name of favorite author here) right off the bat without going through whatever (favorite author) went through to get that good. It’s normal, and very human, and it’s not limited to writers and would-be writers. I’d guess every creative person is that way.

What separates the wheat from the chaff—or elevates a would-be to a writer—is the discipline to put butt in chair and write. You gotta have your chops, and while meditation is a good thing, it will never totally replace action, especially when it comes to being creative. At a certain point you simply have to do something about your dreams, rather than just dreaming them.

My wife loves cozy mysteries, and she came up with an idea for one (I refuse to share it here until she’s done with it) that I think is excellent, and it draws on her own experience, which will make it more authentic. She’s let me read most of it as she finishes each section, with the caveat that I turn my editing off, and it’s excellent, especially for someone who said she couldn’t write. I’m not much on cozies, but I know good writing when I see it, and she’s got it.

I encouraged her, so I guess I’m getting my just desserts.

But you know what? That’s okay. It’s made her happier than I’ve seen her yet, and she loves that I believe in her, and that makes it worth anything I could go through. After all, she sits in bed to write while I’m reading (how’s that for a hot time in the bedroom?), so we’re still spending time together, and it doesn’t get much better than that.

Only twenty-three more days to go…

Later,
Gil

Two Firsts

This past week marks two firsts for me—the first time I’ve had a book re-released, and the first time I’ve been featured on someone else’s blog.

Let me explain. I’ll start with the re-release.

If you’ve paid attention to my offerings here, you’ll notice I took the link down for Spree. That’s because I got the rights back at the end of last year and a new edition has been in production since, with a far better cover and interior layout.

And the return of my original opening sentence.

When I originally conceived of Spree, I wanted to have fun with it. So I made the writing style a bit irreverent, and very informal. I wanted it to be more stream-of-consciousness than some stodgy, formal thing (I hate that anyway, anymore). Yes, the story becomes serious—as it should—but I wanted the reader to have fun getting there.

In this spirit, the original opening sentence to what I guess you’d call the prologue read This is how it went down. I thought that, in a sentence, summed up the experience I planned to give the reader.

But the original editor/publisher believed that sentence was too omniscient. Not enough deep POV. So it was scrapped, and I’ve always regretted that. Let that be a lesson to you, kiddies: don’t always give in just to be published, which is sorta what I did.

There was one other passage I had a minor problem with, where I had my cop character have a hunch, and the editor didn’t like it. He wanted to add in that the information had come from a confidential informant. I’m not sure exactly what the objection was to the hunch—it’s been long enough that, if there was a reason given, I don’t remember it. Some people just don’t like the idea of people getting hunches, but I’m convinced cops—and people in other professions as well—get these hunches based on their long experience in their jobs. They’re not something weird and mystical, they’re just our brain and subconscious working together in ways we don’t fully understand yet.

But, I let it stand.

Most of the other editing was fine. No objection. But, on the whole, I wasn’t that happy with the publisher, so when it came time to renew the contract, I opted out.

Now, on the other subject, though I’ve been a published author for some time, I’m not good at the PR end of things. I even stopped doing this blog because, quite frankly, I ran out things to write about. There at the end, I was trying different strategies to make it more relevant and less focused on things only other writers would be interested in, but it didn’t work too well.

And, quite frankly, I lacked the self-confidence to promote myself on others’ sites.

But my wife—God bless her—wants to see me succeed, probably more than I do, and she’s getting me out there, making me do things outside my poor, introvert’s comfort zone, which means I’ve been featured on Ninetoes Loves Books (https://ninetoeslovesbooks.wordpress.com/2017/10/26/introducing-gil-miller/), so pop on over and give it a quick read and see what you think.

I’m still not sure what to think of it, but I’m happy to report that the man himself sent me a friend request on Facebook, and we talked a bit on Messenger and it turns out we’re a lot alike, so if nothing else, I got a new friend out of it. And I hope for both our sakes we get a lot more than that. If we can give each other a boost, so much the better.

And if I haven’t put up links to my newest books—including the re-release—by the time you read this, rest assured they’ll be up soon.

Later,
Gil

Into the Unknown

It’s been quite some time since I told you to look for a comeback from me, and even longer since I’ve posted anything here. If you’ve given up on me, I’m sorry for being absent for so long (though, if you’ve given up, you’re probably not reading this, so…). And if you haven’t… well, thanks for staying the course and please accept my profound apologies for neglecting you for so long.

First, a short explanation: I ran out of things to say.

Short enough for you?

The simple truth is, unless I want to stray into areas I probably shouldn’t—and I touched on them with posts such as questioning whether or not political parties have become cults—maintaining a blog week after week is tough for me. I’ve read books about blogging, of course. I’m anal about researching things to the nth degree. But while those books are good at telling you what you should do (a plug for Rise of the Machines by Kristen Lamb would not be out of place here), very few tell you how to do it, and therein lies the problem for me.

Yes, I realize the details are up to me. I’m not asking someone to hold my hand. The problem likely lies more in my comprehension than anything else. What they say makes sense, I just can’t figure out exactly how to translate that into practical experience.

But I’m gonna work on it.

And I’m gonna get back into blogging. I’ve had others suggest several directions for me to go with this blog, directions that don’t consist of repeatedly talking only about writing and being an author (though I’m sure there’ll still be some of those posts), and I may dabble in many of those suggestions. So if things seem a bit scattered here, that’s why.

In the meantime, a lot has changed in the time I’ve been “off the air.” I’m still somewhat in a writing slump—which no doubt contributed to my long silence—but I seem to be slowly coming out of that and I’m feeling the first faint warmth of the creative fires burning again.

And, about three months ago, I married my best friend. Not to sound melodramatic, but I was well on my way to becoming a bitter, lonely old man (another factor which probably kept me from writing), and then this special lady from the past finds me on Facebook and my life turned around completely.

Which leads to my leap into the unknown.

Being a writer, I’m sure it only makes sense I’m a book nerd. So is my wife. And she’d love nothing better than to see me be successful as an author. To her, I’m a rock star. When last I wrote here, I worked as a security guard, which allowed me to do quite a bit of editing while performing my duties on the job. I’ve since left that job and went to work installing network, fire alarm, and coaxial cable, a job I got laid off from after three months. And, despite the so-called improved economy, I’m having trouble finding a new job.

A couple weeks back, one of the attendees at my writers group offered to pay me to edit one of his books he intends to self-publish. I took him up on the offer, but it got me to thinking, and I talked to my wife about it, and the upshot is, I’m gonna throw my hat in the ring as a freelance editor.

And why not? I now have a couple years’ experience under my belt working for Oghma Creative Media. But we’re still not earning enough money for anyone to make a salary yet—though we’re getting tantalizingly close—and I need to generate an income. Yes, from what little research I’ve been able to do so far, it’s a tough field, but I’m used to that from being an author. And if it works out, it’ll mean no more commuting, which will save on gas, and it’ll be a natural extension of what I already do until Oghma gets on an earning basis. And as my wife said, it’s a good time to experiment and see how it goes while I have some unemployment coming in and no job offers as yet.

Yeah, it’s scary. But following your dreams always is. If you sit on your duff and never take a chance, you never get to find out if you could have made it or not. For some, I’m sure that’s fine, and I won’t argue with them about it.

But I’m not getting any younger. If I’m gonna do this, I better get on it.

I’ll keep you posted.

Later,
Gil

Want to Be a Successful Writer? Ten Ways to GO PRO!

But saying we want to go PRO is easier than knowing what one actually looks like. To be blunt, there are far more people “playing writer” than “going pro.” Even those of us …

Source: Want to Be a Successful Writer? Ten Ways to GO PRO!