Tag Archives: Crime fiction

An Informal Poll

Unless I have a whole lot more people out there reading this blog than I realize, I don’t exactly have a busload of folks to take a poll with. In fact, I’d say it’s a good chance I’d have trouble filling up a minivan with my readers, even if it meant a free trip to Silver Dollar City.

But I’m gonna throw this out there anyway, see what kind of responses I get. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, right?

Okay, so here’s the situation: I’ve had to do a revision of Pipeline: Startup, the first novel in my Pipeline duology (hereinafter referred to as Startup). If you didn’t read that blog—or have forgotten the details—in brief, I submitted my ms to Aaron Priest, one of my dream agents. He rejected me, but gave a brief critique, in which he said:

Your writing, line by line, is skillful. Your main character Lyle Villines is interesting, likable, and even compelling. However, a crime novel must have a strong sense of forward motion in its pacing, and this is what your manuscript lacked, in my view. Your query’s synopsis told me of a plot that sounded enticing, yet by page 75, almost nothing had happened. My best advice to you, as you write, is to put at the forefront of your consciousness the concept of storytelling that sustains a tireless forward motion.

There were a few more things, but that’s the bulk and essence of the letter. I wrote back, asking if I could resubmit my ms if I could revise it. I was answered by one Francis Jalet-Miller (no relation that I’m aware of), who said “…in most cases Mr. Priest does not do second readings, but if you would like to re-send your revised manuscript, Mr. Priest said that he would be okay with my giving it a reading. If you check our website, you will note that my role here is as in-house editor (I do not function here as an agent).”

So, to motivate myself, I count this as half a rejection. I would like to add that I thanked Mr. Priest for his words, because they pointed out something I wasn’t seeing, but should have. All I can say is I must have been entirely too close to the work to get a proper objective look at it. Even a friend of mine, who usually sees this kind of thing, admits he was in the same position: he saw it once it was pointed out, and can’t figure just why he didn’t see it in the first place. And he definitely wasn’t too close to the work.

So, anyway, I set about revising it, after giving it a lot of thought (and having the bejesus scared out of me when my computer tried to crap out on me), and agonizing over it more than I rightfully should have. Heck, I’m a writer. Just sit down and write the damn thing.

But, see, based on opinions I trust, about page 100 or so, it really starts to take off, get really interesting. So, okay, that’s good news. Means I don’t have to revise everything. Just a third or so of it.

I gave it a fresh look, decided the first twenty-three pages were good as is, and went from there. I re-wrote some scenes, deleted others, and changed the entire timeline. The idea I had was, while I’m at it, might as well see if I can reduce the overall word count. Never hurts, so long as you don’t cut out something vital.

So that’s what I did. Then, last Thursday, I took it to group. I started at page twenty, since they’d never heard my revised version of the first section the reporter wrote (the idea behind this book is that Lyle is telling this story to a reporter). They hadn’t like my original reporter section, so I’d rewritten it a long time ago, made it shorter and more to the point, and changed where it occurs in the novel.

Well, most of ’em still didn’t like the reporter bit. And, since it doesn’t happen till page twenty, they pretty much had the idea that nothing has still happened until after the reporter section, at the least.

Crap. I can’t win for losing.

My problem is, this isn’t like going to apply for a job and getting it. You don’t just drop off into the drug world and start moving up. And, since the plot involves Lyle getting close to someone high up in one of the cartels, he sure as hell can’t just walk up to them and make friends. You don’t stay in the business long if you do that. Not on either end of that situation.

So, the first part is necessarily a bit slow. But, at the same time, I gotta make that interesting.

One of the members said that, the problem he had with the reporter being there is that it means Lyle is telling the story, thus we already know he survived his encounter with the drug world.

Okay. That’s a valid point. Then you add in that it’s a first-person POV, which many authors say is not a good POV to use because, supposedly, the first-person narration also denotes that the protagonist survived.

And yet…and yet, I dare you go pick up a crime novel or mystery. Based on the many that I’ve read, chances are very good that it’ll be a first-person narrative. It’s a common technique, especially in mystery, but since crime is a subgenre of mystery, it shows up a lot there, too.

Plus, first-person narrative is very popular these days. So, strike that as a negative. It’s obvious readers today are willing to suspend disbelief in that direction.

So, what about the reporter aspect?

Well, after some thought, and discussing it with my daughter and that same friend I mentioned above, I’m of the opinion that I’ll leave the reporter bits in. Why? For one, there aren’t that many. When you’re reading this thing with a greater sense of continuity than I can give you at writer’s group, I think it’ll look entirely different. Also, the reporter bits, much like the reporter in Interview With The Vampire, add a perspective to it that Lyle can’t give us. Lyle’s too deep in the story. He lived it. The reporter gives us an outsider’s perspective.

Lastly (I think), the point of Lyle’s story, as I’ve written it, is not whether or not Lyle lives. I mean, be honest: how many books have you read in which the protagonist died? The only one I can think of offhand is To Live and Die in LA. Yes, the hero is often in mortal danger. But finding examples of where the good guy dies is hard to do. We know when we pick up a book that the good guy will live (unless it’s a George RR Martin novel, and then no one is safe. But not all of us can kill off main characters like he does). The suspense, the suspension of disbelief, comes not from whether or not the character lives, but how he does it. And, in the case of my novel, how he not only keeps himself alive, but escapes from the drug world and also fulfills his deal with the government and goes back to a normal life (which he realizes fairly early on that he’ll never be able to do. Getting arrested and dealing with powerful drug figures means his life will never be the same again).

So, here I sit, with two opposing viewpoints on how to go about this, which boil down to, do I leave the reporter a part of the story—and by that, I mean an active part, not just an implied one—or do I do away with that pretty much altogether. One alternative I’ve been offered is to start with a short prologue in which it is announced that there will be an ongoing series about Lyle. But, to me, that still does the same thing. All it leaves out is the rare parts actually written by the reporter that some say intrude on the story—while others say they like those parts.

That makes it a wash, in my mind, but I’d like to get a little broader poll, a little more input. Yes, I’m leaning toward leaving the reporter in, but going back to my original idea and framing the story with reporter bits. In other words, do a prologue-type thing at the beginning—one that isn’t very long—and another at the very end. Then maybe open up the second book with another, though I don’t think I’ll end it with one, because it’s structured differently.

What’s your opinion? Does the reporter aspect add anything, at least academically (I know it’s hard to judge when you haven’t read the thing)? Or does it distract a reader? Let me know, if you would.



No Accidents

I was reminded this week of an important aspect of writing that I’m starting to think I’ve sorta let fall by the wayside: there are no accidents in a well-written story.

Let me explain: I’m most of the way through The Kill Clause by Gregg Hurwitz. The first novel of his that I read was The Crime Writer, which is about a crime writer who gets accused of killing his ex-girlfriend. It’s interesting, especially from a writer’s POV, because he decides to deal with the case by writing it as a novel. There are a few passages that look like raw manuscript, with his editor’s comments penciled in. It’s also interesting in that it examines the crime novel itself, and how some cops view crime writers as glorifying crime and adding to the problem. Objectively speaking, I’d have to say guilty as charged.

The Kill Clause is an earlier book, the first in a series about deputy US marshal Tim Rackley. Tim’s daughter is killed and raped, and the man who did it gets away with it. Why? Well, Tim has friends in the LE community, and cops take care of their own. He’s offered the chance to take out the culprit. No official arrest, none of that, by the cops who catch the guy. He almost does, but backs out.

So far, so good.

But then he’s approached by a man who’s working with a small group calling themselves the Commission, whose goal is to review cases that were thrown out due to technicalities. They will go over all the information and pass judgment as to whether or not the verdict was correct. If it’s not, they’ll set up surveillance and find a way to take the perp out. Tim is to serve as their executioner.

Naturally, the further he gets embroiled in all this, the worse this thing looks.

I won’t go into too many other details—in case you want to read it yourself—but I wanted to give you the basic plot so you can understand what I’m going to talk about. As a reminder: there are no accidents in a novel.

Or, to be more precise, there’s no such thing a coincidence. It’s the old adage: if there’s a gun on the dresser in Act I, somebody better shoot the thing in Act III. Nothing is supposed to be innocuous in a novel.

It happens all the time in real life. Well, depending on your belief system. Personally, I don’t believe in coincidence, per sé. I believe that we just don’t always see what some events in our lives mean.

But this isn’t about my personal belief system or yours. We could argue about that all day and never reach a concrete conclusion. It’s about what happens in novels, and I won’t repeat it again.

One of the hazards of writing as I do is that there can be random events. Sometimes, I don’t see them simply because my subconscious planted them there and they don’t have significance until later in the story. That’s when I get this epiphany that says, Oh, that’s why I did that.

It’s an awesome experience.

But there are false trails, too, things that I put in that end up not leading anywhere. They feel right at the time, but don’t bear any fruit.

Why do these happen? To be honest, I don’t know. I don’t question to process too much. Sometimes knowing what goes on behind the scenes ruins everything. I just trust in it and, when I go back and edit, take out the dead-ends.

There’s a seemingly random scene a good part of the way through The Kill Clause that brought it home to me—once more—how each scene is important. Mr. Hurwitz writes a finely crafted novel, and once you read about this scene, I’m sure you’ll agree.

Basically, an event happens that makes Rackley begin to truly question whether or not what the Commission does is right. I won’t go into the details, as it might be a spoiler, but afterwards, he’s driving home and, on impulse, whips into the parking lot of a club to have an after-action drink.

When this scene started, a part of me wanted to skip ahead. I have that happen at times, because I can’t see the relevance of a given scene.

I should have had more faith in Mr. Hurwitz.

As it turns out, a couple of public defenders (PDs) plunk their drunk selves down at the bar next to him. When they do, one PD is bitching to the other about a guy he had to defend that day. The kid was a sixteen-year-old third striker who was gonna go to prison on a twenty-five-to-life for stealing a toilet paper holder. I used a similar example in my novel Spree where one of my characters was in prison with a homeless guy who went down on his third strike for stealing a pack of socks to keep his feet warm.

I won’t argue the merits or lack thereof of the Three Strike Law. I’ll just say I’m still trying to make up my mind about it.

Tim and the PD get into an argument from opposing sides—Tim as a cop, the PD as, well, a public defender. I won’t get into the argument they have, because it’s part of the fun of the novel, but I’m sure you can figure out the upshot of the scene: it’s one of the final reasons for Tim to reconsider his work for the Commission. And it’s followed by that last explosive scene that forces Tim into one course of action.

The point of all this is that Mr. Hurwitz doesn’t throw in random scenes that serve no purpose. With some of these scenes, it’s harder to see what relevance they have, until you realize they’re character development. Those scenes are always harder for me to craft, because you have to make hard decisions on whether or not it’s something you need to know or if the reader needs to know, too.

Talk about splitting hairs. Those kind can be a hard call, at least for me.

But when it comes to plot relevance, it’s a little easier.

It’s made me do some more thinking about how I’m going to change Pipeline. Have I wandered too far afield with it? Could it be trimmed down to one good novel? Well, I’m not sure, because the plot of the current novel I’m writing about Lyle depends on some events that happen in the first novel.

Is that justified? It’s easy to say, “Yes,” because it’s a series. Some things—and I had this in mind while writing the first two novels—need to be planted so they bear fruit in later novels. You have to try and think of the overall story arc as well as the plot of the present novel. Not easy to do when you write seat-of-the-pants. I just have to, again, trust in the process.

So, I have to take another look at both of the first two novels and see how to trim and maybe even reorder things. There are events in both novels that will have a bearing on the third and fourth novels, but I can’t be too obscure about them or I’ll lose the reader—and, more importantly, any agent who reads the first book.

Because of what happened with Aaron Priest, my daughter suggested that I market Spree first, as it’s more action-oriented than the first Pipeline is at present. I’m still considering that, but a part of my mind keeps turning back to Pipeline. In my mind, it’s a superior novel. Spree is okay, but I don’t think it’s up to the quality of Pipeline. I wanted to have fun with Spree, even though it turns serious before it’s all said and done.

But I need to do a lot of research on Spree. Mostly in the sense that I have them visiting locations I’ve never been to, so I need to make heavy use of Google Maps Street View to correct my descriptions. I want them as accurate as possible, so I can skew them through my characters’ perceptions. And that’ll mean lots of sitting at a computer and following certain sections of I-10 as well as looking at towns along the way.

And I want to put all that in when I edit.

I’m not sure what I’ll do at this point. But The Kill Clause has reminded me that I need to make sure each and every scene in my novels contribute to the story.

Because there are no accidents in fiction.



Good Rejection

Okay, just for clarity, let’s start with the text in question. That way, I can ramble in the rest of the blog and you’ll understand what I’m rambling about.

Dear Gil Miller:

I have reviewed your manuscript PIPELINE: STARTUP. After careful consideration, I am sorry to say that I do not feel my interest is sufficient to pursue it any further with you. In case the following few thoughts might be useful to you, I would like to add:  Your writing itself, line by line, is skillful. Your main character Lyle Villines is interesting, likable, and even compelling. However, a crime novel must have a strong sense of forward motion in its pacing, and this is what your manuscript lacked, in my view. Your query’s synopsis told me of a plot that sounded enticing, yet by page 75, almost nothing had happened. My best advice to you, as you write, is to put at the forefront of your consciousness the concept of storytelling that sustains a tireless forward motion.

Publishing is an extremely subjective business, and other readers may react differently. I do wish you the best of luck in finding an agent or editor appropriately suited to your work.


Aaron M. Priest

So there you have it, in black and white.

What’s so special about this that I want to write a post on it? Well, as any writer who’s submitted his/her work will tell you, rejections like this are about as common as hen’s teeth. Agents are busy folks. They get who knows how many submissions every week. Just having one read your ms is a major achievement—one that any writer will tell you is exhilarating and nail-biting at the same time.

Because they’re so busy, agents rarely send more than a form rejection that basically says I can’t get behind your writing and don’t have time to tell you why. This is a subjective business. Best of luck in the future. Heck, they don’t all say that last, but most do. Or maybe they don’t qualify their opinion as being subjective. Okay, fair enough. I understand that, and I’m sure most, if not all, writers do, too. At least, it’s hoped they do.

So, to get a personalized rejection like this is great, because now I know why it’s being rejected. And that’s worth far more than its weight in gold.

“Wait a minute,” you say. “Didn’t you just tell me that this is a subjective business? Can Mr. Priest’s opinion really mean that much?”

To me, yes. Why? Well, first of all, he’s the agent—as I’ve probably gone on ad nauseam about—to Robert Crais, my biggest inspiration and influence for writing crime fiction. But that’s a subjective reason, and I know that.

The better reason, in this case, is that he’s right.

I was—as I’m sure you expect—a bit disappointed when I first got this rejection. It’s a boost to your self-confidence when an agent for famous, bestselling authors shows an interest in your work. But that means heightened expectations, no matter how hard you try not to let them build up, and when you’re rejected, the fall is farther. At least, that’s how it’s worked for me so far.

And it’s even worse when you’re not sure why they’re rejecting your work.

Well, now I know because, in a nutshell, he’s right. For me, it was the elephant in the room, the nose on my face. As a member of my writing group said when I asked their advice, I’d let myself get far too comfortable with Lyle. I’ve sympathized with him too much. It made for great writing—that’s not just my own ego speaking there, its backed up by reactions from my writing group—but not the kind of thing that needs to be in a crime novel.

As Mr. Priest pointed out.

The more I thought about it—after getting past the initial disappointment, that is—the more it made sense. Especially after reading the letter to group and getting their feedback, which amounted to what I just said. Dusty Richards said it best: there needs to be dead bodies.

Lyle needs to be in danger. Part of what happened when I was writing was that I looked at that fact that you can’t just decide to get into dealing drugs and expect everyone to go, “Oh, okay, sure. C’mon in, dude. We got a place at the table for you.”

Drug dealing—at every level—is as cutthroat as any other business. Its illegality is just spice to the mix for the folks that do it. That and the fact they don’t pay taxes. Many of them are in it for the thrill of getting away with something society as a whole frowns on.

So, my main thought as I wrote the first part of my novel was to ease Lyle into the business because he’s not gonna just waltz in and snuggle up next to a major dealer/distributor. That ain’t happenin.

The other thing I was concentrating on was breaking Lyle’s naïveté. I wanted him to be largely ignorant of the true ravages of meth, and my first major turning point in the novel was for him to view a meth cook’s house and have it rock him to his foundations. I’ve written about reaction to that part of the book elsewhere, and I won’t rehash it here.

Between these two goals, the first part of the novel falls on its face, action-wise. It’s a great character study. By the time you get to that proverbial page 75, you should know Lyle very well. But he’s not been in any danger up till now. He’s had his worldview altered when it comes to what meth does to people, and he’s met the Higgins family, which is potentially dangerous, but he’s pretty much unscathed other than that.

And those two things don’t really count.

See, meeting the Higginses was necessary. He befriends them, and they’re his way into the world of major drug dealing.

And seeing the ravages of meth addiction is critical to character development. One of the things I really like about Robert Crais’s characters—and I’m referring to his major characters of Elvis Cole and Joe Pike here—is that he gets us inside their heads. Even as the world is going to shit around them and they’re dealing with some truly dangerous people—they’ve gone up against Russian Mafia and LA gangstas—things are going on inside them that make us root for them not only on the plot points, but on a personal level as well.

That’s what I want from my novels. Mr. Crais has stretched the boundaries of the crime novel, and I want to follow him into that unexplored territory.

Unfortunately, I forgot the essential: he still writes a damn good crime novel. The other stuff is subplot, not main plot. I let character take center stage. Fine of you’re writing literary fiction, but I’m not. Spree definitely does not qualify for that, not by any stretch. And I don’t want to enter that snobby world anyway.

It’s ironic that this should happen to me—and I’m referring to my previous post entitled “Keep It Moving, Just Not Too Much”—since I’ve complained about just this kind of thing. I can’t objectively say whether or not my novel moves, but I can say that, in my opinion, Lyle definitely moves through that part, he just doesn’t do it in a compelling way. It’s more like he went into an art gallery and he’s wandering around looking at paintings, deciding what he likes and what he doesn’t on a whim. He’s not there as a critic, not seeing the overall theme that art showings are supposed to have (I can’t attest to this as I’m a lowbrow who doesn’t go to art showings).

Lyle just kinda ambles through things until he accidentally hits on a turn in the plot.

That could be excused in the first draft. For that part of the story, he’s exploring because I was exploring. I was getting to know him as I wrote, and I was trying to figure out how to aim him in the direction he needed to go. The need to just write the damn story overwhelmed other things. A telling point there is that here we had a novel that I intended to have come in around 90,000 words end up being two novels long.

One of the hazards of writing seat-of-the-pants.

But, on edit, I should have seen this lack of action for what it was and corrected it. I didn’t. I do now, of course, but we all know what hindsight’s like. You smack yourself on the forehead—I’ve only done that figuratively so far—and wonder how in hell you coulda missed that. Especially when you bitched about it on a blog post, right out there where all and sundry can read it.

Hmm. Never realized what crow tasted like. Not to this extent, anyway. It’s one thing to eat it in front of one friend, but in front of my (admittedly limited) readership? Gah.

This one’s getting long, but I’d like to take a moment to thank the members of my writing group for their suggestions, all of which I’m taking into consideration. Some won’t work because of story structure, while others…well, I just have to figure out how to incorporate them into the story.

The good news? It’s not a major rewrite. Mr. Priest has a point, but things do start picking up after that. I’ll still look at it more closely, see if there’s a way to improve on what’s there. No, let me re-phrase that: see how best to improve on what’s there.

One last thing: There’s a feeling that runs through all of Mr. Crais’s novels that I haven’t—until now—been able to quite name. It’s there no matter what his characters are doing, and it’s something that goes beyond the fully realized world or the situations his characters find themselves in. It’s what makes me admire his work, and I’d love to incorporate it in my work, because it’s what makes his so compelling.

Now I know what it is: menace. I originally considered that it was danger, but that’s too blatant, too obvious, and it didn’t feel right. It’s menace, man. They brush up against the dark side of society each and every day, and they get on with the good things in life anyway.

That’s what my books need: menace. Lyle’s fallen into the world of crime, whether he wanted to or not, and he’s gotta deal with that for the rest of his life. Time for me to make him deal with it.

Good rejection. There is such a thing.



Still Moving

It’s official: reading crime novels has spoiled me.

I talked about this in a couple of prior posts, in a way. Crime novels move. It’s their purpose. They aren’t literary excursions. They’re not exercises in how many words you can use to tell what should be a short story.

I can’t lay the blame entirely at crime’s door, though. There’s this whole Internet thing. You heard of it? Yeah, that thing. Seems that, thanks to it, people don’t like long blocks of text. They want the lite version: tell them as much as you can in as few words as possible. I’ve fallen victim to it as well. If I encounter a Web page that has too much text on it, I skip it.

What spurred this was my attempt to finally read The Story of Edgar Sawtelle. I’m sure you’ve hard of it. A debut novel from a few years back that made a minor splash on the bestseller scene (that’s sarcasm, in case you can’t hear it).

I made it to somewhere around page 66 and gave up. It’s the kind of book I used to could have curled up and spent hours with. Lots of back-story. Lots of telling me how things came to be since about the time God said, “Let there be Light!”

I used to love that stuff, man. Gimme back-story. Gimme the Book of Genesis. Gimme all the nuances of personality, whether they have bearing on the story or not. I want to know these people thoroughly before I get involved with them. I didn’t care if the story stayed stuck in one spot for twenty pages. This is background, man. Don’t interrupt me right now, ’cause this stuff’s da bomb!

Now, I’ll grant you this: it could be that I just wasn’t in the mood for something like Edgar Sawtelle. Despite my general sense of disdain for the whole bestseller phenomenon (it’s that outsider’s disdain for what he views as the in crowd), I’ve found that, more often than not, they’re bestsellers for a reason.

I’m not downing the book, and I’m sure there’s a reason so many people lauded it. I can remember the first time I picked up Stephen King’s It, just after it was released in hardback (that was back in the days when I grabbed every new King novel as soon as it came out). To be honest, I was a little disappointed and gave up maybe a quarter of the way in. It was just too much.

Something like three months later, I picked it up and tried again. And couldn’t get enough of it. I’m sure you’ve done the same thing: you’ve got like three hundred frickin’ movies, and ain’t one of ’em worth watching. At least not today. Go back the next day, and you can’t pick which one of the twenty that look appealing that you really wanna watch. Books can be the same way.

I think I may try Edgar Sawtelle again a few months down the road, when I hit one of those periods where I can’t take another crime novel without screaming and beating on the walls. I’m still ingesting those things pretty steady, though. It’s the genre I want to write in, so I’m taking in all the crime novels I can. The more I know about the field, the better my own novels will be.

And, to be fair, David Wroblewski is a good writer. I reiterate that what he does is the kind of thing I’d happily lose myself in for hours at a time as recently as a year ago. But since I’ve immersed myself in crime so much lately (sometimes it feels like it’s leaking out my pores), I want the story to move with very little pause or I can’t tolerate it.

Wroblewski spends a couple pages of the prologue describing, in somewhat loving detail, the walk a man takes in Pusan, South Korea in 1952. We get a very full picture of what Pusan, or at least that particular part of it, was like back then. And damned if I’m gonna say there’s anything wrong with that. Evidently a lot of people approved of the way he does this.

But compare that with the opening sentence of An Ordinary Decent Criminal by Michael Van Rooy: I had a gun I didn’t want to use. There’s a blurb on the front cover that pretty much sums up what I’ve read of the novel so far: “An Ordinary Decent Criminal would have Quentin Tarantino smiling from page one. Doubt me? Read page one.” –Michael Koryta.

He’s right. Three people are killed on page two. Violently.


We’re off and running. Go, you. I can’t wait to take the rest of it in now, and I’m just on Chapter 2. We be jommin’.

Maybe I’m putting too much emphasis on this thing. Maybe I sound like the newly converted: C’mere, lemme show you how to get to heaven, brother! But, see, the thing is, it’s a lesson I’ve learned, and this blog is about writing. Yes, I’ve strayed occasionally, writing about something that’s just pissed me off so much that I’ll explode if I don’t say something. But, by and large, this is a blog about writing. Not politics, or what passes for it in DC these days. Or anywhere else, for that matter. Crime writing is my release valve from all that crap. I play video games like Grand Theft Auto for therapy, for chrissakes! Had a bad day? Fire up the PS2 (I haven’t been able to afford a nextgen console) and kill some polygons. Guaranteed to make you feel better. Just imagine it’s your least favorite politician. Maybe that ain’t PC, but it works.

Anyway, the thing is, because writing standards have changed so much recently, and I’ve dove off in the deep end of the crime writer’s pool, I need for my stories to move, thank you very much.

And I’ll try to keep from bringing this up again for a while, boys and girls. That’s this week’s lesson. For your homework, go out and read something you enjoy. And stay out of this damned heat. This summer’s reads aren’t for the beach, they’re for the living room under the a/c.



Another “Stuff” Post

Okay, first of all, yes, I’ve changed my theme again. It’s not that I’m so much indecisive as I’m experimenting. I actually wanted to use this theme last time I switched but didn’t realize how versatile it is (for those of you who don’t use WordPress, you can sort of try on your themes before using them. Except they don’t always look like you can make ’em look when you activate them). Mostly I’m looking for something I can proof that’s easy on my eyes. I not only proof in my text box, I also proof after I publish the post because I sometimes spot mistakes there that I don’t see in the text box. My daughter liked the last theme I switched to, but it wasn’t my preferred one, so now I’ve switched to this one.

Besides, I’m kind of a gadget guy, so I like to change things up occasionally. I get bored leaving it one way. Heck, I tend to buy new watches (yes, I still wear one of those) just because I get bored with the one I’ve got.

Okay. Now that’s out of the way.

I just came from my writers’ group. I didn’t take anything to read tonight, which turned out to be just as well. This group has been around a long time, over twenty years, if I’m not mistaken. It’s run by Western author Dusty Richards and an old newspaper writer named Velda Brotherton. For those of you who read Westerns, as of this year Dusty has written 100 books. He has written some for the Ralph Compton estate as well as several under his own name. Considering that Westerns, as far as I can tell anyway, aren’t a real hot commodity in publishing right now (which is sad, in my opinion), I think that says something for him that he can get his stuff published.

Anyway, because our group is so old, attendance fluctuates. When I take reading material, I usually make twelve copies because that seems to be a happy medium. Some nights are like tonight in which I’d guess there were well over twenty people there, and others it’s more like ten or fifteen. You just never know from meeting to meeting. They’re a punctual group (they have to be), starting promptly at 6:30 P.M. and ending as close to 9:00 as possible. It rarely runs over that. Each participant can bring five pages of whatever work they want, and that includes poetry. We pass around copies, the author reads it aloud, and then everyone is free to comment on it. In other words, what we have is a critique group.

I like that. I mean, we joke and stuff, so it’s not 100% business 100% of the time, but we do keep our nose pretty close to the grindstone, simply because of time constraints. In order for everyone to read their material, it’s necessary.

We have a pretty diverse group, too. As I’m sure you’ve figured out, I do sf/f and I’m starting to experiment with crime fiction. We have a couple of mystery writers, one other guy is doing a space opera, there are a couple of romance writers, and one who thought she was a romance writer but then evidently figured out she wrote chick lit. Nothing wrong with that. We have one woman named Jan Morril (I hope I spelled that name right) who’s writing what I guess you’d call a historical novel. If I understand her history correctly, she is originally from Hawaii and is at least part Japanese. Her book, which she’s calling Broken Dolls, is about a Japanese family from California interred in a camp in Arkansas during World War II and the people they meet. It’s excellent writing, and I don’t understand everything that’s happening because I’ve missed large chunks of it. But what I’ve read is impressive and I’d like to read the entire book. I hope she finds a publisher for it, because it deserves to be out there. Anyway, we also have  a couple of humor writers who tend to do sketches rather than full-blown novel-length pieces, but that’s okay, too. There’s room for all kinds.

The thing is, I thought that’s basically what all writers’ groups did: got together and critiqued one another’s work. It’s interesting to me because it lets me sample stuff I wouldn’t normally read (and some of it I never will), and it’s been interesting educating most of them in what goes and doesn’t in sf/f. They just weren’t that familiar with the genre.

It seems. though, that the group my daughter belongs to doesn’t do that. They do a prompt session where they spend five minutes writing some kind of little flash fiction thing, and they’re given five words to use in a story for the next meeting (please correct me if I’m wrong, Jesi). From what I understand, it’s a small group, about eight people if I remember right, and they meet once a week just like my group does.

Now, I’m not one to criticize another group. It’s not like I’ve got the ultimate wisdom on what a writers’ group should be and/or do. But, while I like the little prompts and such that my daughter’s group does, I have to wonder if they’d get more out of it if they did some critiquing. I say this because I have grown considerably as a writer since I started going to this group I’m in and, with the exception of sharing whatever good news there might be (I’m still waiting for someone to jump up and down screaming “I got an agent!” or something similar), critiquing one another’s work is all we do. Well, that and eat the wonderful desserts one of the women brings every week.

So is anyone out there reading this part of a writers’ group besides me, my daughter and Russell (I know he reads this because he’s commented a couple of times)? If you are, what does your group do? Do you think critiquing should be a vital part of what a group does, or are there other ways to help group members?

I ask these questions because, as I said, this is what I pictured writers’ groups doing before I joined this one, and I think  I would have been surprised if they’d done anything else. But maybe my exposure to such things is too limited or something, so it’s gotten me to wondering and I thought I’d ask.

Well, I believe that’s enough rambling this time around. Let me know what you think in the way of groups. Or my new theme. I want it to be different but easy to read at the same time.