Bullet Wisdom

I am an Active Duty Officer in the US Army. I am a Husband, father, writer, hunter, gamer, and SOLDIER. This blog is a forum for my many hobbies as well as my random musings.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Christmas Gifts for an Aspiring Author

So, it's that most wonderful time of the year. There's still more than a few shopping days left in the season and it's a safe bet that most of us slackers have yet to finish checking off everyone from our list. For those of you who have an aspiring author in your family or social circle, I thought I'd help you and throw out a few items they may need (even if they think they don't):

The Amazon Kindle ($139). This thing is the Borg of e-readers. It's everywhere. It's not friendly with all e-formats (You will be assimilated. Resistance is futile). And I'll be frank, most writers hate these things, or think they hate these things. We love the smell and feel of paper; we love touching it and turning the pages. Writers are stubborn that way. But most importantly, writers are B-R-O-K-E, or at least close to it. A humble writer can save anywhere between $5 to $15 per book. Plus, it's green (green is the new black); they're not killing trees. Bonus- guys writing Romance under a female-esque pen names don't have to expose the cheesy covers of whatever they're using as research material.

The Chicago Manual of Style, 16th Edition ($49). Yeah, I know, it's a hardback, pricey, it's a lot of pulp (kills trees), and it runs contrary to the whole e-reader thing. But, it's not legally available in any e-reader format, and it's the King James of style (writing and grammar, not fashion; might be important to point out the difference). This is one of those things a new writer might not think to buy for themselves. Of course, it's huge and bland, and they may look at you like you have a dick growing from you forehead ('You think my grammar is poor?' i.e. 'Does my butt look big in these jeans?').

Grado iGrado Headphones ($49). Your lovable aspiring author may spend hours in a writing coma using music to isolate themselves from manic households and hone their focus. If they use Apple products, I'm going to bet that more than a few are still using those trendy little white ear buds. From that I can guarantee their ears get sore as hell after several hours of Boom Boom Pow. I'm not going to get into the geekery of audiophilia, but these behind-the-neck cans (slang for headphones) can be worn for days and sound better than anything you own. Even your Bo$e and Beat$. Sadly, I have a $200 set of Grados and these are damn near as good. I almost cry thinking about it.

Last gift: Time (free, or expensive depending on how you look at it). Laugh as much as you want, but I don't think there's anything nicer than giving your lovable aspiring author a gift certificate for time; there's simply not enough of it lying around. Pack up the kids, arm the security system, throw out the dog, lock the doors, and leave. Make sure you leave your writer behind. Do they have a conference coming up? Head to the relatives. Trying to get out a round of queries? Give them a weekend. Seriously, they'll be blown away by your kindness.

That's it. I could go on and on, but that should be enough to get you thinking. Or shopping. Go now, you lousy bunch of procrastinators. Go!

Friday, December 3, 2010

New Writer Seeks Advice

But I'm not the new writer. What? It appears I'm now an expert, or at least other people think I am. Personally, I prefer to think of myself as a student of the art. Over the last year, in the time I've gotten serious about writing and learning about the publishing industry, I've been very content to sit back, ask questions, and learn from those who did this before me, whether they were published or not.

(I think it's important to note that just because a writer isn't published, that doesn't mean an aspiring author should discount their wisdom and experience. This is a long journey; for a few, publishing happens, but for most, it doesn't. As we like to say in the military: it's the reality of the profession.)

Okay, back to title. I've blogged about this stuff in the past, but this is the first time it's hit me in real life. So, late last night dude walks up to me in that parking. (No, I'm not getting carjacked. We're both in uniform, so it's cool. I actually know the guy.) Here's how it went.

Him: "Hey, Ken, I heard you published a book?"

Me: (completely flattered) "Well, no. I'm working on it."

Him: "What do you know about publishing?"

Me: "Not enough, but I've learned a ton. What do you need?"

Him: "Well, I wrote a book. I've been working on it a while. I've tried to get it published, but I really don't know how?"

Me: "What genre is it?"

Him: "It's a series of humorous stories I've written down since I came into the Army."

Me: "Okay, that's interesting. How's your query letter?"

Him: "What's a query letter?"

Me: "How much time do you have?"

So he and I plan to get together and talk. He's a peer, so I'll do my best to help him out. The current problem is we're in the middle of a massive training event that will probably prevent us from getting together until after New Year's Day. To keep him occupied, I gave him a homework assignment:

First, find a writing group and ingratiate yourself with other writers. Second, Google 'query letter' and start educating yourself on how the publishing industry works. Last, go to a site like Querytracker.com and find agents looking for your specific genre.

Me: (military aphorism) "Know your enemy."

Him: (nodding) "Ah, target the right agents." (He meant for his book, not literally. Words matter. You have to watch yourself around Army dudes.)

All this didn't click until this morning. One of my favorite agents, Lauren MacLeod of the Strothman Agency, tweeted that about 60% of the queries she receives are, for lack a better phrase, a wast of time. Of that, she said, only 10% are good enough to seriously consider. I know the competition was stiff. I know there are a LOT of writers out there trying to get published. What I didn't know (and I'm using beer-math) was that the huge majority of queries flat out suck.

So, when I do get a chance to get back with my peer and try to pass on some of my limited knowledge, I'm going to do my best to ensure he falls more into the 10% category rather than that dreaded 60%. I have to wonder what that 60% does with their free time. Obviously not research.

Research, people, it's your friend.

...and, hey, I'm an expert!

Friday, November 19, 2010

No Plan Survives First Contact...

...or 'the Enemy gets his vote', or 'Murphy was a Soldier.' These are all variations of Murphy's pretty well known law, 'If Anything Can Go Wrong, It Will.' But I digress. Point is, during my 15 years in the military, I've learned some good lessons, and some of them even transfer over to the writing world. One of the most important of them is at the top of the post: No plan survives first contact.

In the military, we plan operations days, weeks, even months in advance. We slave over maps, statistics, and manuals, arguing and screaming back and forth over the table, eventually arriving at a hard earned consensus on how to move forward to engage the enemy.

Sounds a little like writing? Yeah, it kind of does.

We brief the plan, rehearsed it to death, prepared, and prepared. Then comes the execution, the part where we jump into our armored death machines and move forward to engage the enemy. Modern nights donned with Kevlar-armor, 21st century optics, and weapons that would make Napoleon himself run in terror. There is no second place in war. We are confident that:

We. Cannot. Lose.

Writing is the same. We plan. We plot. For hours, we march back and forth in front of whiteboard full of plot diagrams and flow charts. The rooms are filled with heat from the multiple computers burning their CPUs day and night collecting the research and background data that provide a solid foundation for our story. When it's all done, we outline, building the ladder that's going to take us from Act I up to the top of our Climax.

Then there's the other guy. That dude on the other side of the map with his own death machines and a hard-worked campaign plan. That's the Enemy. And guess what? He gets a vote too. When those armored warriors make contact and the steel starts flying, guess what happens to our plan. It goes right out the window.

Same thing in writing. In our writing cave, chapter summaries and character outlines get taped up next to the monitor and whiteboard. Then we move out, punishing keyboards to put words on the screen. (Frankly, I missed the days when I was whacking away on my IBM Selectric. It had a certain rhythm to it that was just awesome). As we roll out and start giving our characters bona fide opinions and that all-important snappy dialogue, something occurs to us: The story doesn't make any sense; it's going in a different direction. The plan was great; the outline, bulletproof. But it all changed. So what the heck happened?

At this point, you have a few choices. You can scratch your head, back away from the keyboard, pull down the outlines and rework your plot-equations until the math makes sense. After all, your intended story was g-e-n-i-u-s. It will work-- it has to work.

Okay, option two. Roll with it. Another military saying, 'An eighty percent plan executed violently is better than a perfect plan, poorly executed'. Be flexible, adapt. Let the narrative and dialogue lead you on their natural course until the muse decides it's time to hang it up. Every great military leader knows that momentum on the battlefield is critical to success. It's the same for writers. Keep that momentum; keep the words flowing left to right. Follow the plot rabbit down the hole until you've reached a natural stopping point.

The real Enemy here isn't the change in your outline; it's the break in momentum. In the end, the objective may not be the one you originally intended to conquer, but like on the battlefield, it may be the one that ultimately leads to that greater success. I will offer a few caveats:

No matter where the flow of the battle (story) takes you, don't lose sight of the desired endstate. Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater. It may be an ugly baby, but it's yours. (Like real life, some babies are genuinely ugly. Really) Also, your new story may not be better than the original. You may have had a bad batch of No-Doze and your new storyline is nothing more than a bizarre caffeine-influenced sidebar. Know the difference. There's no real formula for success here other than:

Be flexible and know when to exploit success.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Adventures of an Aspiring Author

It's Friday. Thankfully. It's been one of those weeks where the work/effort to payoff ratio has been skewed in the wrong direction. First, to the Texas Rangers. Boo. What the heck, guys? Score some freaking runs and try to get through the middle innings without getting shelled.

I'd thought I'd end the week with a quick play-by-play of a typical night in the life of an aspiring author. Let me rephrase, a typical night in the life of a working/parent-aspiring author. Sometimes I wonder how I ever finished a manuscript at all. Oh, wait, I was in Iraq!

5:00 pm - Horn blows, time to close up shop. Can't wait to get home and finish up the current chapter. I was on a wicked roll last night and there's some fresh ideas that need to be captured.

5:10 pm - Heading out door and phone rings. Higher ups want a copy of every purchase receipt going back to March. Wait, you need this today? Everone's already left... but I wasn't here in... I'm not... I... Oh, crap.

6:30 pm - Walked through the front door, threw stuff on the floor, kissed wife, and sat down for family dinner, a decent meal of leftover, then scolded son for playing with his during grace.

7:00 pm - Shower and change. Set up writing station. Open up Macbook Pro and launch Scrivener (if you don't have this you hurt). Review hand written notes from previous evening.

7:05 pm - Wife calls. My sh*t doesn't belong on the floor. Go and pick up. Assist with dinner clean up. Take out trash.

7:45 pm - Back to writing/man-cave. Put on headphones. I'm writing an action sequence, so I dial up assortment of Tool, Chevelle, Nickelback, and Three Days Grace. Focus Time.

7:55 pm - Tap on shoulder. It's the boy. He's holding a sheet of paper dated two weeks ago. Looks like its covered in dried juice and cracker crumbs. Apparently it's a reading project involving rote memorization, a substantial amount of illustrations, and a wing-board. It's due tomorrow.

9:00 pm - Homework completed thanks to parental intervention and large amount of yelling. Back in front of keyboard. Headphones on and tunes cranked. Another tap on shoulder. It's the daughter. Mommy requests my presence in the family room.

9:05 pm - Wife hasn't sat with me and watched TV all week. She'd like to watch some TV. Turn on TV and attempt to leave, but there's clarification. She doesn't want to watch TV, she wants to watch a movie WITH me. Power up BluRay player and sit.

11:00 pm - Wife is dowstairs getting ready for bed. Finally sit down and attempt to salvage some writing. Wait, I forgot something, something I wanted to do yesterday but didn't get around to accomplishing.

11:05 pm - Run down to garage and fire up irrigation system. I'm in the area, so pack up my sh*t and prepare clothes for next work day. While I'm in the area, trasfer wet clothes from washer to dryer, and fold batch of laundry while watching angry people on Fox News.

11:35 pm - Officially abandon writing/man-cave. Bring laptop downstairs to bedroom. Wife is already asleep. Conduct nightly hygiene regimen, then crawl into bed. Open laptop, review previous night writing.

11:50 pm - Correct numerous typos from previous session as well as some narration that made absolutely no sense whatsoever. Frantically type out cool new ideas (now a little stale) in bullet format so as not to forget them before next writing session. Hack through some awkward dialogue, then realize the entire bit is not germane to the plot. Shift-Fn-Up, Fn-Delete.

12:15 am - Word count for the day, 51 words. At least we have a few cool ideas for next time. Check alarm. Wake-up time is 4 hours and 15 minutes away. Run backup software (backups, people, BACKUPS!). Fold up Macbook. Go to bed.

Not every night is so crazy, but all have the potential. I wouldn't be able to write at all if it weren't for the support of my awesome wife, so I'll just take a moment to thank her for being amazing. As a working/parent/aspiring-author, I work when I have to, I parent always, and I write whenever I have the chance. Someday, I'll finish this damn rewrite, then reach for a glass of Scotch. A really tall glass.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Here's to you Mr. Reunion Name-Tag Reader

This weekend I paid $19 bucks for a glass of Scotch. It was a good single-malt, mind you, but I was a little chaffed that I paid for half the bottle with a single glass. A small glass. Of course, I had already ordered a second before I discovered the price. Caveat Emptor.

This weekend I had the privilege of attending my 20th reunion. My wife and I had a blast getting to re-know some of my oldest friends. My favorite part of the evening was some of the folks introducing themselves to my wife with something along the lines of:

(reading name-tag) 'Hey, *wife's name*, it's so good to see you again. You look great!' Yes, my wife looks great. I married a hottee. But dude, I'm the one in your class. Not my wife. And next time make sure you put some tanning lotion on the bleached wedding band line.

So yesterday I woke up with the flu. My voice is zero and my head is about to explode. For me, missing work is rare (like once every ten years rare), but this case was bad enough for the doc to order me home. I thought there would be a chance to work on my manuscript, but so far the only thing I've achieved is power-napping and stalking old classmates on Facebook.

I saw some interesting things this weekend. Some people who used to look great no longer do, while some people who used to not look great have matured into fabulous. Some people have done well for themselves, while others struggle with the rest of us. Not everyone marries their college sweetheart, gets the amazing job and the bulletproof 401k. We're human. Some folks wear their scars like a red badge of courage, others hide it amazingly well.

I wish the best to the class of 1990. We've come along way. For the folks who didn't go: Shame on you. It would have been nice to see you again. Several months ago, for a very brief moment, I debated attending. I had assumed that not all my close friends would be attending. I also assumed that my wife might not appreciate getting drug to an event that would be largely all about me.

That ended up being so-not the case. Everyone made her feel very welcome. Especially a couple dudes who mistook her for one of our class. And looked at her boobs. Several times.


Friday, September 24, 2010

A Review of Sorts: Bulletwisdom Goes Hungry

I don't know if this is so much a review as it is me reminiscing about the mixed feelings I have about Suzanne Collins impressive YA series, The Hunger Games. First, I need to say thanks to author of the upcoming Newsoul series, Jodi Meadows, and her agent from the Strothman Agency, Lauren MacLeod. On Twitter, one comment led to another, and when the two were interested in my opinion on the series, I felt obligated to take up the challenge. Since I had not reviewed a book, let alone a series, in years, it made for an interesting experience.
***Stop here if you don't want any spoilers. I address specifics across all three novels***

The Hunger Games is a complex, dystopian YA series that well represents the best themes from a long list of dystopian/sci-fi works: Ender's Game, The Most Dangerous Game, The Running Man, and Brave New World. Okay, that's a heady list, and maybe I'm overstating, but at the end of the series (particularly the first entry) I couldn't help but be a bit overwhelmed by the magnitude of the themes. If you're an author and you're picking and choosing your inspiration, those are some of the all time greats.

I'll play loose here. A young girl lives is thrown into an arena and forced to hunt other children (The Most Dangerous Game). In the Hunger Games, the audience revels in the killing while even the victors are portrayed as losers (The Running Man). The people of the ruling district, the Capitol, are extremely detached from the society they're oppressing (Brave New World). And the main character finds herself at the end of her victorious struggles haunted and depressed, wondering, 'What was it worth?' (Ender's Game) I could probably throw in themes from Animal Farm and Lord of the Flies for good measure, but needless to say, I really enjoyed reading Collin's series.

But that's not why I'm here. On Twitter, I became involved in a discussion surrounding the violence presented in The Hunger Games. Was it excessive? Is it appropriate for a Young Adult audience. I'm a Soldier, I've been to war, and my life experiences force me to look at things with a slightly different perspective than most.

So to answer the questions: Yes, the violence is excessive. And yes, it's appropriate.

Now, I don't think I'll be passing Catching Fire and Mockingjay to my ten year old anytime soon, but my field-worn, water-damaged copy of The Hunger Games is already in her hand. To point out something about the list of novels I referenced earlier, they all were considered controversial or at the least, avant-garde, and they all contained a considerable amount of violence.

Oh, and by the age of sixteen, I read them all. The Hunger Games is no more inappropriate a literary work for tweens than anything else on a banned high school reading list.

It's necessary to take a moment to comment Collin's handling of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). It's all over The Hunger Games. All the games' former victors portray significant degrees of PTSD. All the tell-tale symptoms are there: flashback, nightmares, alcoholism, drug addiction, hallucinations, etc... the list goes on and on.

I see PTSD everyday. I have a friend who will randomly streams tears while he sits in meetings or at his desk. There are Soldiers in my command suffering from chronic insomnia and night terrors. One time in my house, I actually dove for the tile at the sound of a backfiring car. It's real. It's affecting our Soldiers, and it's not something you can wish away.

By the third book, there's a PTSD scene every other page. Maybe it's a bit overdone, but by the end the effects on the main character are permanent and lingering. Good triumphs over Evil and there's no happy ending, just a quiet torment tempered by drugs, counseling and the passage of time. The characters find a tepid happiness, and like many Soldiers from today's ten-year War on Terror, a return to true normalcy after experiencing the horrors of war is all but impossible.

Some of the concepts weren't all that well done. I laughed when one of the engineers lamented about their inability to reproduce high-altitude aircraft, this coming from a dude with invisible hovercraft. Uh-huh. And their combat tactics weren't all that smart. I felt it was like two insurgencies fighting each rather that a bunch rebels versus an actual nation. And in Mockingjay, the defense of the Capital hinges around a city-scale version of the X-Men's Danger Room. That would look great for the movie adaptation, but for battlefield tactics, it's just silly.

I guess also lost along with representative democracy and the 'advanced' technologies from the old United States were simple fundamentals of war like Mass, Maneuver, Economy of Force, Security, Surprise.... and Tanks! Oh, how this story made me long for good ole' days of war where civilized men slugged it out with mechanized armor and artillery (that's a poke at today's counterinsurgency warriors). The war in this book is what I imagine would happen if ten-year old politicians staged a fight with legos, army men, and toy dinosaurs. I digress. What I enjoyed about this book weren't the technologies and tactics.

Maybe the takeaway from The Hunger Games isn't just the simple the 'war is hell' theme from Red Badge of Courage or Saving Private Ryan. Maybe, when you experience something that traumatic, that horrific, the effects last a lifetime. Time will not heal all wounds. Some injuries never go away.

Should my two children ever face going to war, and I pray they never do, it's a lesson I want them to learn.

The Hunger Games, highly recommended.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Why YA and not Adult?

I got into a terrific discussion with fellow aspiring author Danielle LaPaglia earlier in the week about why we choose to write in specific genres. We're both contending in the UF arena, albeit she's focusing on adults while I'm aiming for YA. First, why UF? That part's easy, we were both drawn into paranormal/sci-fi plot lines acted out in contemporary surroundings.

Next, why YA? On the surface, the answer is easy: I'm a pretty freaking immature dude. I take interest in the same things as people less than half my age. I work in an industry where two-thirds of the people I work with are a couple of grade levels removed from prime YA territory. Within a thirty second walk I can find someone to BS such interesting things as gaming, extreme sports, gadgets, sports, etc. And after college, my sense of humor and vocabulary never really matured past Harold & Kumar.

YA characters appeal to me. I identify with protagonists who aren't comfortable in their own skin. Probably I myself have never been comfortable in my own. Not quite sure if all that's a good thing, but those aren't really the reasons I gave Danielle for wanting to write YA.

Frankly, it's all about my kids.

They're 10 and 8. The ten-year old shows a lot interest in reading and devours mid-grade fiction like a Dairy Queen Blizzard. She's mature for her age; the eight-year old is NOT. Both have the amazing ability to absorb Daddy's four-letter word vocabulary like a sponge. Occasionally, they'll sit next to me on the couch and peek over my shoulder while I'm hacking away at my manuscript. Both are well aware their Daddy is writing a book, and both are dying to read it.

And truthfully, I can't wait to let them. Therefore, I have to reign back on what I consider excellent adult material like extreme violence, sex and swear-words. God forbid I teach them a chorus of F*bomb crescendos to haunt around my house for the next several weeks.

After all, I do answer to a wife.

So I write YA. I want to share my stories with my family. As they mature, I expect my subject matter will also. I'll change story lines from teens trying to find themselves to adults trying to save the world.

Until then I'll bite my lip every time my protag wants to cuss like a sailor. Or get laid.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Lessons Learned

Last week, writer Julie Klumb, tagged me in her Lessons Learned post. Today, I was going to attempt a humorous spot at summarizing this week's failed attempts at writing, but since she was gracious enough to mention me, I'm going to answer the mail. So, this year I learned:

1. Writing is hard. Anyone can write. The physical act of putting pen to paper or keyboard to screen is easy. For the latter, at least for most, although I have some friends that might be more efficient with cave drawings, but that's another discussion. Point here, is that there's a myriad of factors that go into telling a successful story, not the least of which is coming up with words compelling enough to keep the reader turning the pages for the next twelve hours of their life. As with any profession, there are rules, gimmicks, tricks, tactics, and techniques. The writer has to know which is the right tool to use and when.

2. Life happens. At this point in my journey, I feel like I'm on the right direction. The goals I laid out for the year and ticking off nicely, and the rewrite of my manuscript is slowly progressing. That said, it's not progressing fast enough. My wife got a job, the kids go to school, and my job takes up about 20 more hours a week than I originally planned. The Army puts food on the table, the kids need help with homework, and I have to put more effort into taking care of the house. After all that's done, the writing gets squeezed out. For now I have to be happy with a couple hours of quality writing time a week. For now it's just the way things are.

3. Writing is a learning profession. I mentioned tools earlier. For years I was taught that passive voice was bad, evil, burn, burn. Now, I've learned that the right placement of passive voice in the right situation make the difference between 'I took the one less travelled by' and 'I chose the less travelled road.' Point is, you have to research the craft. It's that simple. Great writers are experts on grammar. I want to be a great writer, ergo I have a lot to learn.

4. Find and befriend other writers. This goes back to number three. And don't be above or below anyone. Help other writers when they ask, and don't be afraid to ask for help yourself. Usually, you don't know what you don't know until someone points it out.

5. Keep a sense of humor. Rejections hurt, critiques can be painful. You won't make the progress you wanted. You'll have doubt. It's a profession where success is often not attained for years. At some point you'll have to reevaluate to determine if it's worth continuing. Because of that you have to laugh. One way or the other, the ride is going to eventually end. You have to keep your spirits up.

That's it. I tried to stay general as much as possible. In the great Army tradition of Blue-Falconing' our buddies, I'm going to reach out and tag fellow OWG member Danielle LaPaglia.

You're it. No pressure.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Conversations 'Tween My Creations

Is it technically talking to yourself if you're imagining your novel's characters having a conversation, about you? I don't know. The other day I'm mowing my lawn and fighting my Toro Personal Pace mower up the steep grade of my 1/2 acre corner lot, my characters start talking about me.

Oh, before I move any further, for you far east and west coast urbanites whose yard is typically comprised of a concrete pad and hot tub, an acre is a unit of area used in the US to denote 43,560 square feet of land. So my property is about half that. It's a lot of damned grass and takes up a good chunk of my weekend writing time. Thought I'd throw that in.

So, while I'm pushing around the mower, listening to Weird Al's White n' Nerdy (it's an anthem people), my character's start having this conversation. It goes something like this:

Protag: "Dude, I get my ass kicked in the third chapter of the rewrite. That wasn't in my YA Hero contract. What up with that?"

Antag: "At least you keep your teeth, between this version and the last, I lose both up front, and I didn't sign on for dentures."

Romantic Interest: "Before I was hot, smart, and driven, now I'm stuck up and bitchy, and I may even be an antogonist in disquise."

Aspiring Author: "That's because it builds suspense. Simply hooking up the two of you from the start was too easy. Now you're competing with for his affections with two others. You need to work for it."

Romantic Interest: "What--"

Gay BFF (interrupts): "What about me? I got written out? WTF!"

Aspiring Author: "That's because you were never in it to begin with. Too many of you popping up in all sorts of stories. Congratulations, you're officially cliche. Now, if it means getting published, we'll talk."

Gay BFF: "H8er!" (exits)

Aspiring Author: "WTF?"

Protag: "Seriously boss, we need to talk about the budding teen relationship thing. You made me a complete innocent and ignorant kid for over half the book. I suck with girls. Did you suck with girls?"

Aspiring Author: "Absolutely. When I was a senior I was below the Mendoza line. Way below."

Protag: "What's the Mendoza line?"

Aspiring Author: "Obscure baseball reference from the early nineties."

Antag: "I hate baseball."

Aspiring Author: "That's because you're British."

Romantic Interest: "What did you mean I'm competing with two others?"

Protag: "Threesome? Sweet. How do I do that?"

Aspiring Author: Points to Protag. "First, you're too young for the particulars. Second, I'm working that out. It's complicated." Points to Romantic Interest. "Don't worry, you're predestined, and you're HAWT. It's just less obviouos this time around. All three girls get an at-bat."

Antag: "Another baseball reference."

Aspiring Author: "Hey! British! Wanna lose another tooth?"

Antag: "You're only going to bump me off me anyway."

Protag: "He's right." To aspiring author. "How do I get to kill him? Is this another 'bad-guy-trips-on-a-root-and-impales-himself-on-tent-stake'? Cuz that's kind of ghey."

Aspiring Author: "It is, so you get to beat him down old-school. It kind of taints you."

Protag: "Sweet! Wait, tainted?"

Aspiring Author: "Chicks dig tainted. Read every YA out there."

Romantic Interest: "It's true, we do."

Protag: "Sweet!"

And so it goes. As you can tell, I enjoy writing dialogue, and I prefer it funny and sharp. One thing I learned on my first round of queries (almost a year ago), was that I was trying to be too grammatically correct and my dialogue and narrative ended up stiff. So I changed. We'll see how it goes this time around. At the pace I'm going I should have a completed rewrite around February. WTF?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

WriteOnCon Day 1

My first Con! Granted, it's an online writer's convention, but what the heck? I have plenty of time. My day job only takes up my time between the hours of 5 a.m. to 8 p.m. Wrong. At this point, travelling to a writer's convention is a pipe dream. So, the awesome folks at WriteOnCon developed what may be a first: A distant learning writer's convention.

My friend, writer Julie Klumb, showed me the link a few weeks ago. I signed up and happily waited. Gradually, I forgot all about it until she shot out a reminder. Good thing I registered early.

Yesterday was the first day. Forums opened for submissions for query's, WIPs, and finished products. All day long, the forum hosted events and discussion drawing in some awesome talent to share their industry wisdom. What did I learn?

1. Nothing new. Huh? What? Let me elaborate.

2. All the information you need is out there to be a successful writer, but you have to listen to the advice and be able to apply it. That's two very different, and difficult, things.

3. You need a professional-grade query letter. It should be simple: Present the story, introduce yourself. Be bold, be brief, then be gone. Don't overstay your welcome. The query letter is about your story. Save the extraneous life story stuff and how great you are for an actual phone conversation. If you get one. Jump over to Twitter and take a look at agent comments at #queryfail. Did it make you laugh? I did. What's funnier is I've made a good chunk of those mistakes.

4. Be professional. For some folks, this is hard. This is an industry practically invented the 'don't-call-us-we'll-call-you' tactic. Last night, literary agent Mark McVeigh gave a fabulous presentation, and at one point lamented about the poor behavior of some aspiring writers. I thought the best point he made was about following simple instructions.

Mark receives around sixty queries a day. Attachments take about a minute each to open and process. If each query and included excerpt was attached via word document, that's an additional hour a day just spent opening documents. Multiply that over a month and you have a lot of lost productivity. Follow instructions listed on the site, it's the professional thing to do.

5. Mark also said, 'know the agent you're querying.' I'm paraphrasing badly, sorry. His recommendation, if the agent your querying recently sold a book in a genre similar to yours, say so. I found that quite bold. Makes sense, but still. I think it goes back to the 'know the agent' statement. If you do your homework, you'll know when you can get away with a bold move, and when you can't.

6. Online presence, do or don't. The panel didn't really seem to care one way or another. I think this goes back to the most important mission of an aspiring writer: First, learn to write. If you're spending hours and hours weekly on your blog, you're probably taking away hours you could be doing research and writing for your story.

7. Critiques. Standards vary wildly and you need to pick and choose what to use, and what to discard. I'm used to the monthly line-by-line trashing I get over at Kelley Armstrong's Online Writing Group (OWG) Forums. For WriteOnCon, I'm noticing a paragraph or two of, 'I really liked this.' To someones credit, they flat out told me to scrap my first paragraph. I think they're right. If you want to write successfully, find a writing group that will routinely tear your stuff apart. You'll be better for it.

To me this is all common sense, and the kind of info pushed by publishing professional in every blog, interview, social media, and convention (all one of them) I've come across. If I had to pick something to impress upon everyone?

Write something great.

Huge thanks to the folks at WriteOnCon for putting on a fabulous platform for those of us who might never have to opportunity to travel to a Con.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Frisco Soldier Gets Home Back

It's being reported today in the Dallas Morning News that Captain Michael Clauer is getting his home back. As is the usual nature of litigation and negotiation, no terms are disclosed. Courtesy the DMN:
An agreement that enables them to keep the house was reached this week
during a court-ordered settlement conference.

A gag order prevents those involved from sharing details. But the
bottom line is that the Clauers once again own their home in the Heritage Lakes

“The family is very pleased that this matter has been resolved,” said
their attorney."

Friday, July 23, 2010

To Blog, or not to Blog?

Should unpublished writers blog?

That is the question. This week, a couple of influential bloggers, agent Mary Kole and writer Jodi Meadows, both weighed in on relatively opposite sides of the discussion. (I say relatively because since posting, their opinions are shown to be much closer than originally implied). After reading friend PJ Schnyder's post, I decided my own opinion was necessary. The

I say go for it. Whatever you want. Especially if you are a new and unpublished writer. Go wild.

Why? Because you ARE an unpublished writer. Use your blog and other social media networks to enjoy yourself and test your creative limits. Blogging daily or weekly encourages the development of good writing habits such as, say, the ability to meet a deadline (ignore the fact I failed to post last week) or

If you write something down, you're more likely to remember it later. If you see another writer or publishing professional put out some interesting factoid or advice, analyze it and blog about it. Do that and you're more likely to internalize it than if you simply saved a link somewhere in your bottomless collection of bookmarks.

Your blog doesn't have to be great. Shoot, it doesn't have to be good (although it would help). Hell, it doesn't even have to be amazingly average (think, blog devoted to cats, blech). It just needs to make you happy from week to week as you get out there and share your ideas. Look at it this way: It can only have a positive effect on your other writing efforts.

Now, on the flip side. If you're not enjoying it, if every day or week or month you look at the keyboard and say, "Damn, I have to do the freaking blog," then you should reconsider why your doing it in the first place. If it's not fun or enjoyable, then it's probably not worth doing. Although I usually say, 'if you can't do it right...', but that's a different discussion.

I also don't recommend 'bitch' blogs where you aim the rhetorical flamethrower at current or future employers, agents or corporate entities. If you're going to burn down the bridge, at least wait until your standing on it with a contract in hand.

Chances are, your blog and Facebook account are not going to help you get an agent and get published. Yes, there are exceptions, rare ones, but in the end you have to actually write material that is extremely interesting to achieve your breakthrough moment. It is at that point that you will be forced to reevaluate your position as you attempt to walk the fine line between image, publicity, and marketing. After all, when you're a successful writer, the big boys will have much $$$ invested. Don't be surprised if they not-so-subtly request you to make a change, or ten.

Make it big, delete your old blog, pretend it never happened, then hire a marketing firm and publicist to come up with the interesting material for you.

Again, not there yet? Go wild.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Homeowners Association Seizes Deployed Soldier's Home

Illegally I might add. There is no grey area in the federal law, the Servicemember's Civil Relief Act (SCRA). Okay first, what happened, courtesy the Dallas Morning News:

"A soldier serving in Iraq lost his Frisco home to foreclosure over late homeowners association dues, renewing a debate over the power of HOAs in Texas.

The case, which has boiled over to involve a federal judge, a publicist and death threats, began when Michael and May Clauer lost their $315,000 home to foreclosure in May 2008 after falling behind on their association dues.

The Heritage Lakes Homeowners Association was initially owed $977.55 and sent multiple notices by certified mail demanding payment. All went unanswered, said David Margulies, spokesman for the association and its management company, Select Management.

The problem, according to a lawyer for the Clauers, was that Michael Clauer – U.S. Army National Guard Capt. Michael Clauer – was deployed to Iraq.

His wife, suffering from depression over her husband's absence, had let mail pile up and didn't open any of the certified letters. May Clauer and her parents owned the house mortgage-free."

This is recent news, as in this week-recent. My brother lives in Frisco. It's a great community with wonderful neighborhoods and people. When my mother told me about this story, my blood immediately boiled. Civilians do not have an appreciation for the amount of stress placed on military spouses during their loved-one's deployment.

The good news, and I guarantee this, is that the Homeowners Association (HOA) is going to get hammered by the Servicemember's Civil Relief Act. The SCRA is the federal law protecting deployed Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines from in-absentia legal proceedings, including foreclosure. There is no shelter or exemption from the SCRA. It's punitive, meant to discourage folks from taking advantage of servicemembers not present to defend themselves.

That the HOA contacted the 'military' to inquire about Captain Clauer's status is preposterous. Who'd they call? The 1-800 military-status hotline? The Department of the Army? The local National Guard Armory? I can only imagine the HOA squealing with glee when some Private Snuffee sitting behind a CQ desk told them he'd never heard of the guy. Somehow, they allegedly got hold of a memorandum stating the guy was no longer on Active Duty. Don't get me started on how easy it is to check a Soldier's status by simply checking Army Knowledge Online.

But guess what, it doesn't matter. No matter what excuse the HOA's spokesperson spins, there are NO provisions for administrative errors or mistakes in the SCRA. The HOA will get slammed, the buyer will lose his money, and the military family will keep their home.

The Federal judge has ordered all parties sit down and come to an agreement on ownership. I'll update everyone on this story when I find out more. Frankly, I hope CPT Clauer sues the HOA right out of business.

The HOA is in full damage control-mode. They hired a spokesperson. They've put their story out there, but no degree of spin-doctoring will protect the HOA from public backlash. No matter how legally-right they thought they were, this is a monstrous public relations FAIL. Their only acceptable course of action is to hand the family back the keys, reimburse the buyer, and say, 'Our bad.' But even if the want to do that, chances are the military will get involved and assist the family in their suit. There has to be substantial punitive damages. We must discourage this type of activity. It should be public, it should be expensive, and it should send a message.

Don't mess with deployed Soldiers, ever.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Professional Envy

I'm fired up. Not in a bad way, mind you, but in a very positive manner. First, a good friend and peer from my writing group announced the sale of her novella today. No one works harder than she does, and she's beginning the see the fruits of her labor. She is the third associate of mine in recent weeks to get their first sale.

Steven King once wrote that you needed talent to succeed as a writer. He then said that you would know if you were talented if someone were willing to pay you for your work.

I'm not jealous of their success, completely the opposite as a matter of fact. I'm excited for their success. For two of them, I provided critiques or betas for their stories before they went to final draft and sale. There's a great deal of satisfaction to be taken from getting a teammate across the finish.

My envy, frustration, or whatever you call it, stems from my disappointment in my progress over the last few months. From a writing aspect, I feel stalled. My obligations to the Army are at an all time high. I get up and five in the morning and come home at seven or eight at night. The family responsibilities kick in, and sometimes I have to sleep. Next thing you know, several days travel by with no progress made on any writing projects.

This wasn't a surprise. I'm an Iron Major. It's the nickname we give officers in similar positions expected to pull the lion's share of an organizations load. It's the busiest time of my career. Doing well in this job is critical to my long range goals and retirement.

So I knew back in January when I took this job that I wouldn't get as much writing done as I'd like. Goals were scaled back. Expectations, lowered. This year's singular objective: get paid for a piece of work. Any work. As stated earlier, meet Stephen King's definition of talented.

My professional envy comes from respect. This isn't a case of thinking my kung fu is stronger than theirs. This is about me sitting on my thumbs and biting my lip because I know I'm capable of moving to the head of the class.

It does get harder watching the success of good friend, knowing I'm intentionally throttling back while they move forward. I want them to keep moving forward. The more success my peers experience, the more I burn to meet them at the ladder.

My time will come.

So, this next week. Vacation. Not really. We're putting in a new kitchen and bathrooms. Plus, I'm the Iron Major; getting yanked back into the office to pull someone's bacon out of the fire is inevitable. Don't feel bad for me, remember, I asked for this.

But, by Saturday, 15,000 new words on the YA rewrite. FIFTEEN THOUSAND. I'm calling it here. I'm motivated. Blame Julie.

See you next week.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Rewrite Hell

A month ago I resolved to rewrite my YA novel, EMANARE. At the time, the momentum was there. It was coming of a half-decent ABNA showing. I had a couple very solid betas. I had likable characters and villains, a timely plot, and some great dialogue (albeit a little stiff). Technically, I knew what the structure lacked and I figured a rewrite would be a snap. Uh-huh.

So why can't I get going? Well, the first obstacle is work. The second, third, and fourth, is well, life. Family stuff, father stuff, stuff around the house. Stuff, stuff, stuff...

Yeah, right.

Truth is, I've been procrastinating the hell out of a rewrite because, frankly, I don't know how to do one. The more I peel back the layers of the first manuscript, the more I find that not even a massive re-edit will do. In order to sync up the plot, sub-plot, and emotional arcs and craft them into into a symphony, I have to throw out a lot of the first book. About half.

I'll have to chuck maybe about the middle third to completely restructure the story the way I envision it. Before that, the first act will stand mostly intact, albeit with some sequence, dialogue, and character revisions. So a few good characters will become bad, while some of the original bad-guys will become a bit more sympathetic.

Momentum. I'm a Newtonian-style writer. (Objects in motion tend to stay...blah, blah) That is to say, once I get going, I can chew up massive amounts of ground. The kicker is, I have to get going. There's some vacation coming up, so the plan is to use the time to focus on the actual writing, putting the nuts on the bolts.

Until them, I'm planning and plotting, improving on the original story and characters' mythology and back-story. I'll get it done, I promise.

Hello, my name is Ken, and I'm a writer.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Go appreciate a literary agent

The title's an imperative. I think agent appreciation day was back in December, so I missed the boat, but recently I've come to the conclusion that this group of professionals is forced to deal with more than an unfair share of BS. If you know or have a literary agent, do a favor for me, and shake their hand, tell them thank-you for providing us with avenues and opportunity, and for putting up with loads of crap.

There's a fairly simple vertical hierarchy to the publishing industry: Writers, Agents, and Publishers. Authors create the material, Agents represent it, and Publishers buy it and sell it to the masses. For now we'll toss aside the marketing, distribution, and sales. Make no mistake about it, that hierarchy is still very much alive and kicking. If you want to get a book to market, you still have to pay the toll.

Now, while the industry structure remains rigid and tall, the communication landscape is anything but. My Command & General Staff College buddies know what a huge fan I am of Thomas L. Friedman and his metaphors in The World is Flat. It's his fourth 'flattener', Open Source, which brings me to the title of today's entry.

Friedman's Open Source tenet is all about access. Blogs, websites, social-networking, all of which make it possible for aspiring authors to communicate with experts, learn, and improve. However, communication isn't one way.

I sent my first round of queries out late last year. At first, I viewed agents as adversaries, gatekeepers to a secret world. Since then, thanks to social-networks, blogs, and websites, I've learned there are no secrets. I've also learned that these are decent people. They put their shoes on the same way we do, are always on the lookout for a decent restaurant, and even get excited when they find a marked-down purse or BluRay player.

As a Major, I'm number three in an organization of about five hundred. On a regular basis, part of the job is telling people their work needs correction, isn't good enough, or just needs to be flat-out redone. Sometimes, rarely, I even need to tell people they're just not suited for my line of work. I've seen the disappointment in their eye when someone tells them their stuff isn't good enough. What protects me from reprisal is a system that does not allow my subordinates to send me nasty emails or post about me on Twitter, Facebook, or blogs.

But literary agents don't get that protection. Anybody with a computer and connection can fire off retaliatory hate mail at will. In spite of that, agents stick their necks out there further, promoting themselves, their clients, and the business.

For agents, it's about relevancy. They can't afford to hide. They must represent their writers and at the same time attract the best talent. My point: they're vulnerable. No thin skins, easy targets for frustrated writers who view themselves the victim of unfair rejection.

Via social networking, I've learned tons about the industry and the profession. My personal experiences with agents were brief, but positive. The one who rejected my full-manuscript only provided a singular comment, but it was a remark that changed the direction of my writing in a very positive way.

Certainly, the bad-apples among the aspiring-author crowd are few. I cannot imagine any of my peers in the writing group replying to a rejection letter with strings of angry F-bombs. Nor, to my knowledge, have any of them built websites lambasting the evils of the literary agent profession.

But those people remain out there. So, I wanted to say thanks, I appreciate what agents do. Without them, I wouldn't be where I am, or know where I wanted to go. Without them, there would be no target to shoot for, or a mountain to climb. Writers, don't give me any crap, I'm not trying to kiss anyone's ass. This will be an only-time deal. One of these days, I'll get my agent. Maybe, we'll even share a beer.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

My Place to Write

"Lemme see your writing space!"

Except to the tune of R. Lee Ermy's line in Stanley Kubrick's 1987 war epic, Full Metal Jack, "Lemme see your war face!"

Yeah, it's a stretch. Lame.

When I attended the Army's Command and General Staff College a couple years ago, my instructor said we needed to create a space where we could read and contemplate in quiet. We needed somewhere away from raging kids and other home-driven distractions, somewhere we could focus on learning and expanding our view of the world.

We bought a new place back in January, first time we purchased a home since 1995. It's taken a few months, but the house is finally starting to come together. Between work, school, and extended family stuff, we only had time to seriously work on the place on every three or four other Saturdays. A pain. But I did finally got around to putting together my little workspace in the back bedroom. The way our floor plan is designed, the only thing better would be a basement or cave (it's Texas, everything is slab).

So I figured a picture was in order.

Let's break it down guy-style:

Apple 13" Macbook Pro Intel 2.53 GHz Core 2 Duo ($1,400 USD), 4 GB RAM, 320 GB 7,200 rpm HDD. The 24" Apple LED Cinema Display ($849 USD) lets me tile my work across dual monitors, simplifying all my cutting, pasting, blogging, twitting, and critting.

I'm ADD, it works for me.

The Time Machine backup program goes to two external HDD's, a 320 GB Western Digital My Book and a 320 GB Western Digital Passport Elite (both available everywhere online for under $100 USD). When my laptop went down last week with a bad motherboard and RAM, the Apple Store ended up replacing the entire interior, HDD included. If I didn't have timely backups, I would have been screwed. Fortunately, I keep two, in case either external drive decides to fail (and sometimes, they do).

We all know music is critical for our writing, so hiding behind the big monitor is a pair of Audioengine A2s ($200). Designed with critical listeners in mind, these little dudes bring the Boom, Boom, Pow to your desktop, throwing more bass than anything this small should be entitled.

If speakers aren't your fare, of if you're trying to hide you tunage from a sleeping spouse or baby, hiding in my drawer is a pair of Grado Labs SR225i headphones. The 'cans', made in New York ($225), bring true high fidelity to my iTunes collection. If you've never been introduced to this level of listening, even in familiar music there would be detail you didn't know existed .

The Apple Magic Mouse. If you have an Apple, and you have one of these, you know how cool they are. If you're a PC, and you don't, well, you don't.

Software weapon of choice: Literature & Latte's Scrivener. Word processing and formatting by writers for writers. If you haven't experienced the pain of uniquely formatting your manuscript for different agents, editors, publishers, contests, etc..., save yourself the trouble and drop the $40 on this. A click of the mouse and Scrivener will compile to any acceptable standard for Novels, Short Stories, Screenplays, and more. Oh, it's only available for Mac.

If you're a PC, I'm sorry. (Catch the theme yet?)

Desk, a cappuccino-contemporary piece from WalMart, about $90 USD. Chair, an oak dining special from the original Corps of Cadets Duncan Dining Facility, Texas A&M University, circa 1930's. The candle-stick thingy with colored glass? No clue; wife stuck it there because is looked cute.

Later in the month I'm throwing out the guest bed from the room and installing my Consonance tube amps and Sonus Fabers to add some real warmth to the room. If you can't already tell, I'm a bit of an audiophile nut.

If I were doing it again, I would have added an iMac rather than the Cinema Display. The difference in price and size between the two aren't all that much, and there's an adapter that would allow my laptop to dual-screen with the iMac's monitor, adding a cool computer that the kids could use when the Macbook was travelling with Dad.

So, that's it; my place to create. What y'all got? Anyone? Anyone?

Friday, May 28, 2010

Closing Out May

The arrival of Memorial Day Weekend signals the end of May and the real start of summer. Kids will get out of school at the end of next week, and my wife, herself a teacher, will have to find something productive to do with your time other than doing lesson plans and dealing with other people's children.

I'll keep the Memorial Day comments short: Memorial Day was enacted by Congress originally as 'Decoration Day' to commemorate U.S. service members who died during the Civil War. Over the years it was expanded to include later wars and conflicts. Traditionally, the remembrance is tied to 30 May, but in later decades the observance was shifted to facilitate a Federal holiday and expanded weekend. Traditionalist insist on adhering to the thirtieth of May, while I'm certain there's a good chunk of us who appreciate a couple of days off at the end of the month.

Enough eulogizing.

May was rough on the Deep Strike Battalion. We lost a Soldier and made our way through a field exercise, albeit the latter more by sheer force and willpower than style and finesse. I, for one, am glad to put May in the rear view mirror.

In the three weeks I separated myself from my writing, a new idea struck. Within a couple of weeks, a plot outline appeared. As of yesterday, the first couple chapters stretched across my Macbook.

Already knee-deep in two other projects, a WIP and a rewrite, the last thing I needed was a third novel. But there it is. I've decided to keep fleshing it out as long as the ideas keep coming. Like my second project, it's markedly different than its predecessor. This particular inspiration is another UFYA, but with a third-person narrative and multiple POVs.

I'm comfortable sticking with the first-person narrative, but at this point in my development, I refuse to shoehorn myself into any particular style or format.

By: Twitter Buttons

Last: I discovered Twitter (much to the chagrin of several of my fellow OWG members). After battling a dizzying array or malfunctioning widgets and a stubborn government firewall, what you see in the column on the right is my new Twitter feed, appropriately named 'Bulletwisdom.'
Unfortunately, all variations of my name were already taken.

Aspiring authors and fellow bloggers take note: Within a couple of hours, the traffic to this site jumped. This lends to the lessons that if you plan to utilize an online marketing strategy, including blogs and social networking, you need a holistic approach that includes all of the above. Links are important. You might have an great blog and a thousand followers, but if the two somehow don't meet in the middle, it counts as a missed opportunity.

That's it. Nothing profound. Remember, it's Memorial Day. While you're with your family and friends, take a moment to commemorate the service members who fell while defending our country.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

A Memorial

A couple weeks back, our Battalion lost a Soldier. Private First Class Barry Smith left this world far too soon. Only a month in the unit, Barry impacted everyone around him. He was talented, ambitious, creative, and gregarious, possessing a monster work ethic that would have seen him rise to the top of the profession. God decided he was too good for us, and brought him home.

This week my battalion did some platoon-level training and live fire. It was a tiring week. We ran each of our 6 platoons through a thirty-six hours training 'lane' consisting of events that would test their ability to perform basic, required tasks.

No room for error. Because of the tragedy, we compressed what my Brigade Commander called a 'tight timeline' to an insane point where if any of the platoons were hung up, it would adversely affect the training of the entire battalion.

Transparent to each of the platoons, was the tireless work of my Officers and NCOs. They worked tirelessly to make a great training event. We were fielding new equipment, training on new systems, introducing new personnel to the staff, and executing an aggressive.

But we made it, and made the news in the process. When we got back to the rear, we were smoked, completely drained by humidity, frustrating moments, and lack of sleep.

Then I got an email from Jodi Meadows. She posting a critique of my query at her site, (W)ords and (W)ardances. Last fall, I had limited success submitting my YA, EMANARE, with what I considered a train wreck of a query letter. What can I say? I was young. She's the first to look at the redo, so I'm hoping with her assistance and a better overall product, I can move forward.

This is my first weekend home in three weeks. Overall, May has been the toughest month on the job. Can't wait for June.

UPDATE - Jodi's critique of my query letter is up her site here. She provided some extremely helpful observations. Thanks Jodi!

Friday, May 7, 2010

Why is a Coach Visiting Iraq Important?

These days, Texas A&M Head Footbal Coach Mike Sherman isn't much of a household name. Back when my team was winning in the late-nineties, he was coaching in the NFL. A lot of people are still wondering just who the hell the guy is after he replaced savior-turned-homewrecker Dennis Franchione.

Sherman's two seasons coaching the Aggies are remarkable only in their ability to continually confuse and frustrate our fanbase.

Disclaimer: I'm an Aggie.

So, when I got word he took the time this last week to visit with Soldiers in Iraq, two words came to mind:

Thanks, Mike.

Iraq is slowly fading from the American public's rearview mirror, and that's a good thing. For years, the only news on Iraq was negative. It was viewed by a good chunk of our national leadership as a lost cause that should have been abandoned for the good of all. But you don't hear that anymore.

The protests have died down. The finger pointing has mostly ended. It means things are going well for Iraq and its people. Violence continues to decrease and our presence in the country continues to decline. Soldiers in Iraq don't appear in the headlines as often as they used to. Regardless of who claims the credit (or blame), it feels good to be a victim of our own success.

It was nice to see my school's headcoach visit Iraq for no other reason than thank the Soldiers who worked so hard to turn the country around. He shared some words of wisdom with those who would listen, and listen they did. I especially liked the part of the Longhorn officer taking notes.

So what? Why address the visit of a little-know coach's visit to an area where the war is gradually coming to a close?

Because we're still there.

As we get closer to Memorial Day weekend, the national holiday where we Americans honor our men and women who died while in military service, take a moment and offer your thoughts and support to our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines still in harm's way. Just because we're winning doesn't mean life is back to normal for them or their families. Casualties are always inevitable, and before it ends, more of our Soldiers will perish. Our families back home will still struggle with the anxiety and stress of brought by seperation and protracted conflict.

Until we're all back home together.

Monday, May 3, 2010

No Thin Skins

I'm still a relative noob when it comes to writing. Not a week goes by that I don't learn something useful from my friends in the OWG at Kelley Armstrong's Otherworld Forums. Today I got exactly what I needed: a good swift kick in the rear.

In a moment of weakness, I let some criticism get under my skin. Now I get criticism of all sorts from my OWG friends, some harsher than others. Their's never phases me, after all, it's not personal, they give of their free time to assist my development, and I'm appreciative of their efforts. It's kind of like getting whacked on the ass in a college fraternity and saying, 'Thank you sir, may I have another?'

Initially, I wasn't very appreciative of the Publisher's Weekly review I received as a prize for making through to the ABNA Quarterfinals. The editor used phrases like gauche, limited promise, apropos of nothing, and watered down. I was rather enraged. I fumed, stormed about the office, complained to my OWG mates. A good hour of the productivity was lost to my private little tantrum.

Then there was a cup of coffee, a meeting, some work that needed to get done. For a moment, I was lost in solving tax-payer funded issues. I did what a Field Grade officer gets paid to do: solve macro problems. When I sat back down in front of my laptop, my perspective had changed.

Years ago, as a Lieutenant, training at the National Training Center in Fort Irwin, California, I would attend After Action Reviews (AARs) following each engagement. The memorable rule of the AAR: No Thin Skins. Sometimes the truth hurts, especially when it comes from an anonymous source.

The rule still applies. It's not personal; you're only going to learn if you're will to take your pitches high and inside. As I've grown as a writer, my early inadequacies became glaringly obvious. I've known about the issues with my manuscript. The individuals who read the manuscript came to similar, albeit somewhat less despotic conclusions. The book I entered in the ABNA was completed in July of last year, months before my adventures in a writing group even began.

So I'm thankful for my anonymous professional reviewer. They confirmed the suspected shortcomings and helped me regain some of the perspective I'd lost while cramming in my myopic little writer's cave.

Given the impossibly small percentage of writer's that end up with their work on the shelf of a local bookstore, I anticipate many more of these insightful critiques. I'll survive.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Waiting on Pins and Needles

April twenty-seventh.

Not that I'm counting or anything. It's the date that the semifinalists from the ABNA are announced. They'll post a list, and chances are one of my friends will send me an email saying, 'OMG, you made it!' or, 'You had a great run.'

For me, it's either vindication, or liberation. Vindication that I wrote a pretty decent story worthy of being in the top 50 of 2,500 writers in my category (and get a full manuscript review from Publishers Weekly). Or liberation, I can move forward with a pretty dramatic rewrite and sculpt my creation into what I think it's worthy of becoming.

So, this week's gun bit. A friend asked if I knew anything about loading a pre-1860 Adams percussion revolver, particular how to reload the weapon. A little Googling and I was able to find out. Here's the Adams revolver:

I'll keep it simple. Like any black powder revolver, the powder and lead ball is loaded into the cylinder. Then the cylinder is rotated, and one by one, each round is pressed by the ram on the left side of the pistol. It's a slow process and requires patience, but as evidenced by the success of the Adams percussion revolver on the battlefield, worth the effort.

The Adams is unique because it was the first successful double-action pistol (Wikipedia), meaning the trigger is required to cock and fire the trigger in one motion. As a matter of fact, this particular pistol cannot be manually cocked and fired single action. Guess you better have a real steady trigger pull.

A great wiki on how to reload a typical cap and ball pistol can be found here.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Genuine Bullet Wisdom and Betas

I'm a Soldier and competitive shooter. Aside from a little creative licensing, I'm also a fan of keeping things real. When folks in my writing group ask a question regarding my profession or its tools, I gladly help. Lord knows, I ask them for plenty.

Last week, a friend closed a comment with a question:

On the boom and bang angle, I've seen people with shotguns with the pistol grip. I was thinking of using a "super shorty" and was wondering if it was possible to utilize one handed (if it helps the character is female and its a sort of true grit moment.) Oh, and if there's problems would a lower yield of gunpowder make it possible and what effect would it have on the rounds? IE penetration etc.
I love shotguns. As much as they're a pain to reload under pressure, they're extremely effective in Close Quarter Combat (QCQ), and are great as a breeching tool to remove doors and locks. They have their disadvantages: can't carry that many rounds, limited engagement distance, slow reloads (on average), and the shells are large and you can't carry all that many of them.

If my friend is married to his idea of a shotgun, you could go classic. I recommend the 1901 upgrade of the Winchester Model 1887. You'll remember it as the famous lever action shotgun used by Governor Arnold in Terminator 2. Fires six shells and can be shortened to movie dimensions. It can even be cocked and fired, swung in a circular motion, in 'true' True Grit fashion.

Now, the modified gun in the movie fired slugs, and modern looking ones at that. It should be noted that this is a classic gun made to fire the reduced loads of the late-eighteenth/early-nineteenth century. Getting the right gun/ammo combination into the hands of the heroine could be complicated. For penetration, you want slugs or buckshot, but penetration wanes considerably the further your target. Take a rock and throw it as far as you can, and there you go. For more modern guns, take your pick here. Personally, my fav these days is the Benelli M3 Super 90.

Okay, onto the second half. I'm doing my first beta for a fellow aspiring writer this weekend. For the uninitiated, a 'beta' is a test-reading of a book done for authors. Professional's send their manuscripts to a limited number of confidants who provide their feedback. Generally, us aspiring types go to beta after between completion and submission, with a couple more edits sprinkled in for good measure.

On a humorous note, when I queried my YA manuscript last fall, I had no idea what a beta was. True story. Probably would have saved me a crap-ton of embarrassment over some silly mistakes. Next time, anyway...

It's an intimidating task, critiquing an entire story from cover to cover. My current forays into critiquing are limited to 3500 words at a time, but fortunately, this is a novella, and comes in just under 30,000. I'm about halfway done, and so far, I'm enjoying the experience. For the first time, I can critique not only the writing, but the story as well.

To the contrary of my initial impressions, it's easier to critique the story as a whole when you have the whole thing sitting in front of you. A chapter at a time, month to month, presents a very fragmented picture. With the whole enchilada, I get to see how the writer wove everything together. I'll go through it twice over the next week to make sure I hit everything before sending it back to its anxious master.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Why Are Writers So Accessible?

The further I get into my new passion, the more I'm baffled by how accessible and helpful successful writers make themselves to a large community of aspiring writers. You would think it would be quite the opposite, I mean, why encourage the competition? Instead, there are a generous folks out there ready to share advices and experiences.

One contemporary was quick to point out there are just as many pros who are complete douchebags. My opinion, that's more than likely a function of a personality than the results of success. You encounter disagreeable folks in all walks of life, and the publishing profession is more than likely no different.

To date I've enjoyed the advice from authors Jim Butcher, Mario Acevedo, and David Devereux. All of which were helpful and motivated the heck out of me to work harder to join the exclusive club of published authors. I need to take the time to thank them, and others, for contributing to my growth as an aspiring author.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Kelley Armstrong. Through the Online Writing Group, her Otherworld Forums provide a tremendous opportunity for aspiring authors to come and cut their teeth with the free masochistic beatdowns. Seriously, that group is filled with characters who take their craft seriously and spend a lot of time mentoring new writers.

Without the help of these eclectic collection of individuals, I'd be just another dude peddling a manuscript. When you think about it, it's in the best interest of the publishing industry to assist aspiring authors. After all, better stories equate to better sales. One of these days I plan to go and participate in a 'Con' so I can meet some of these people in person and attempt to learn more in a different environment, maybe even share a beer with one or two.

That's about it for this week. Next week I'll start a protracted distracted about firearms. I'm a Soldier and competitive shooter, and I get question from other writers about things that go bang or boom (I especially like the boom questions). I'll take a stab at some of the things I like and dislike about the employment of firearms in some of the books I've read (without naming the books, of course). It'll be one guys relatively informed opinion of what right should look like.

Should make for some interesting discussion.

Friday, April 2, 2010

What Drives You?

What drives you? What motivates you to overcome obstacles and drive for success? Why do you want to be published? Fame and glory? Or maybe something more pure and altruistic, like having a story to tell and wanting to share is with a broader population.

When I was a younger man, my brother and I used to rock climb. We would spend hours and hours, pouring out sweat and blood, trying to figure out some insanely physical technique to work our way up unforgiving vertical slabs of stone. There really was no point to it, neither of us received any money or fame. In the end, we simply climbed, as the saying goes, because it was there.

When I started writing in January of 2009, I did it because I was bored and wanted a way to pass time separated from my wife in Iraq. Inspired by long travels punctuated by a pile of popular Urban Fantasy, I found my head a swirl of ideas and inspiration. So I started typing. Eight months later, there was a 150,000 word manuscript.

Gravity took hold; I'd completed a novel. Wow, can't say I knew too many people that had done the same. Pretty cool. I got a crazy idea: publish it. So I look into self-publishing. Seems promising at first, then kind of gay. Publishing yourself is like being the first kid in the neighborhood to do the triple flip at the public pool. If no one sees it, it never really happened.

So, more Internet, more research, and the lessons came fast and furious. Queries, what are those? Rejection letters. Yay. Who are these agents anyway? What is an Online Writing Group? People that provide you feedback for free? Hells yeah. Then back to reality: I have a lot to learn.

And learn a ton I did, not only about the art and science of telling a good story, but of the profession, market, and all the players, agents, and publishers who make the whole thing go around. In particular, I've taken note of a few statistics. The blogosphere is full of folks, professional and amateur, using their valuable time to assist aspiring authors like myself. One in particular I enjoy, is a writer and former slush reader, Jodi Meadows.

Until recently, I didn't know what slush was, so I went to Wikipedia and found out. Slush readers are folks who sift through piles of unsolicited material for agents and publishers, providing an initial filter for material worthy enough to make it through. On Jodi's blog, she provided some statistics from her days reading slush:

Queries read: 5,468
Offers to represent: 5

Look at the numbers; do the math. That's what drives me: a thousandths of a single percent.

Agents and publishers are not obstacles en route to my success, they're the mountains of my youth, my Mt. Everest; something to stand on necessary to get to the top of the world. I never undertaken anything with this statistical degree of difficulty. But that's okay, I don't want this to be easy. A few years from now, when I'm staring at my book sitting on the shelf at the local Barnes & Noble, I want to savor all effort it took to get there.

Damn it's fun. What drives you?

Thursday, March 25, 2010

ABNA Quarterfinalist

First, I spent an awesome week in the field guiding our battalion through its first live fire in over two years. Along with the work, I made sure to take a bit of time to be a fan and take plenty of pictures, including that one. The speed and timing were giving me fits, but I ended up with more than a few decent shots.

Around the middle of the week, a friend emailed and told me 'Congrats'. My initial reaction was, 'What the hell for?' I'd been so inundated with live fire, I forgot all about my manuscript currently roiling in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. They let me know my Young Adult urban fantasy Novel, EMANARE, was selected as a quarterfinalist in the competition, making the cut from 2,500 down to the top 250.

When I set my goals for the contest, getting through the first round seemed like a daunting task. A contemporary whom I consider an excellent writer didn't make last year's cut, and now, I've made it through two. My reward? I review of the complete manuscript by Publisher's Weekly. That alone is a huge bonus. I always planned to re-imagine the work on the next time through, so any feedback from professionals would be excellent.

The other cool part about the quarterfinals, my excerpt is available for download from Amazon's Kindle Site. It's kind of cool seeing your work for sale on the site. Granted, it's listed for $0.00, but I'm still jazzed nonetheless. If you remotely interested or read any more of my recent work, you can see where my journey began about a year ago in Iraq by downloading the piece here.

Don't have a Kindle? Download the Amazon Kindle app for your Apple iPhone or Touch. It's a free app, and it'll let you read my piece. Consider that my shameless plug to increase my Kindle download ranking. Did I mention the price for my excerpt is also free?

Someone asked if I was sufficiently pumped to make the quarterfinals. Frankly, I've been too busy with Army stuff to take a moment and let it sink in, but it'll probably hit me sometime over the weekend. Whether I make the next cut or not, who cares? It's been a fun ride, and I can't wait to get the rewrite underway.

By the way, this is my week in a picture. How was yours?

Saturday, March 20, 2010


This weekend, I watched NCAA basketball and chased my kids around the Great Wolf Lodge in Grapevine, Texas. We met up with a large group of extended family, played in the indoor water park, and stayed up late socializing and reminiscing about old times. I picked Kansas to go all the way to win the national title, but with them, Villanova, and Georgetown biting the early dust, I've falling from expert prognosticator down the rungs to enthusiastic homer (Go Ags!).

What I didn't do was: think about work, the short story I have out for query, the WIP, or the completed manuscript(s) that really deserves a good rewrite. It was a nice couple days of taking a break from the normal grind.

Lately, writing has been my unplug, but as I become more embroiled in one project after another, it's moving from hobby to labor, and not in a good way. So, concentrating on family and basketball has been a nice change.

That's it for this week, nothing complicated. I'm going to have a beer, watch a movie with my wife, and continue the unplugging-mission for a little longer.

Friday, March 12, 2010


I have a lot of ideas. Wait, scratch that, I have an insane amount of ideas. Ideas come to me with I'm doing physical training. They come to be when I'm eating my lunch. Watching TV with my wife? I'm a bit more ADD than most folks, new ideas left and right. Y'all know what I'm talking about.

I caught a whiff of inspiration from fellow OWG member, Michelle Muto, while reading her piece about revisiting older manuscripts. She found pleasure in measuring her progress from one manuscript to another, learning from past mistakes, and applying new ideas to older efforts. At the end of her piece was the question:
"Have you ever ditched one manuscript in favor of another?"

It got me thinking. Just the other day I came up with a rather unique storyline I'd yet to see in a YA Urban Fantasy (not that it doesn't exist, but until I find it, it'll be my own private unicorn). When an idea that cool comes along, I question everything else I'm currently doing and ask, 'Could this be the one?' But that was the same think I said about my last two projects.

So today I'm writing about finishing. Currently, I have one manuscript completed and submitted to ABNA, and another well underway. Each time I started one of those projects I asked that aforementioned question. The temptation is great, especially when the current project isn't moving along at the planned pace. I've found that with my current job and family obligations, writing has moved more towards the back seat. Instead of writing thousands of words a sitting, I feel fortunate to get off a couple of hundred. So when the going to get tough, the temptation to switch to a newer, sexier product is definately there.

A couple of weeks ago, Dresden Files author Jim Butcher popped into Bulletwisdom and among other things, offered the following piece of advice:

"Always start your next project when you've finished your current one."

It's sound logic and one of those mythical pearls of wisdom successful writers try to pass down to us aspiring clowns. Writing isn't easy, and writing well is, no kidding, hard. If a plot isn't developing as well as you'd hoped, and the entire project is coming apart at the seams, then jumping over and starting a new project from scratch would seem like an awesome idea.

However, doing so would miss the point. Writing is a grind, it's supposed to be. Pushing through difficulties and making difficult decisions towards your own sweat and blood is going to be a source of mental anguish and frustration. It's just like exercise: you go through pain and frustration to harden your body and get stronger. Same with writing, perservere through the difficulties and finish what you start. The greatest of athletes are known as great finishers.

Writers are no exception.

So a few days ago, when I was struggling through my current projects latest chapter and experienced an oh-my-freaking-gosh moment of inspiration, I wrote down an intro and a few notes, took about ten minutes to define a basic plot and some characters, then socked it away in my online storage vault--

Until I'm finished with my current project, and ready to start my next.

Friday, March 5, 2010

The Weight of What's Right

I thought I was a smart guy. I had a great verbal. In college, I breezed through creative writing and literature courses. Over the years I continued to write, in professional and academic arenas, and was successful in both. Then I started my quest to publish a novel, and experienced writers and even some professionals have pointed out I had more good fortune in my first year than should be allowed an aspiring author.

So why does it feel as though I've learned nothing.

Case in point, I entered a YA contest over at Kidlit. The premise was simple, agent Mary Kole sifted through a few hundred openings, and picked her favorites. Mine was nowhere near the top five, and after reading through her winners, probably nowhere near the top fifty. The winner's opening, especially the top three, had voice that took on a life of its own. Compared to theirs, mine is weak, lifeless, and way too drawn out.

Fortunately, I've scheduled a rewrite.

One of my writing partners (here) unintentionally helped me realize I had a lot to learn about writing. It started with a lecture over passive verbs; she looked at my critique of another member and politely pointed out what I thought was passive tense, was actually past perfect. Like any good professional, I immediately went to school. As coincidence would have it, one of my favorite writer's blogs, Cec Murphy's Writer to Writer, recently addressed appropriate uses of passive voice.

Having spent an adult lifetime trying to crush the evils of passive voice, now I'm thinking I should reconsider. However, the hard part is when to pick and choose those special moments to actually use a specific style technique to achieve a desired effect. In reading Cec's opines of proper passive voice, I picked up his thoughts regarding use of progressive tense. What the heck is that? Now, I know.

Up to now I've simply been putting words on paper without giving much thought to using the actual structure of the sentence as a literary weapon. The second and third order effects have me reconsidering my use of an outline as more than just a story-planning device. As an old boss told me, words matter because they have meaning. How they are used is probably a close second.

Several months ago, my father, an avid reader, quoted me some unknown dead writer who was asked by an interviewer when he learned to write. The writer replied something to the tune of, 'It took a quarter million words for me to start learning.' I'm horribly paraphrasing, and Lord knows, I wasn't listening all that well (sorry, Dad), but only now I can begin to understand the point of his discussion.

Knowledge is heavy, and the more of it I pick up, the more there's an obligation to use it. You can put as much, or as little, as you want into your projects. You can throw a hundred thousand words into a program and call it a manuscript. You can even call your friends and tell them you wrote a book. The way I see it, cranking out the first 'book' was easy, and to date, I haven't really written anything.

But I'm working on it.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

New DoD Policy Embraces Social Media

Last week was pretty huge for me for two reasons. First, author Jim Butcher personally provided some tremendously helpful advice, and second, my manuscript made it to the second round of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. I was working on this week's post, a look at the Fort Hood Esquire article, but late in the week, the Department of Defense issued Directive-Type Memorandum (DTM) 09-026 - The DoD's policy for Responsible and Effective Use of Internet-based Capabilities.

For the last few years, the Army and other services faced a conundrum: How do you maintain operational security during a period of protracted conflict while dealing with the rapidly increasing popularity of social media. The policies that evolved from the problem were as inconsistent as they were perceived by the field to be unfair towards a young generation of service members who grew up with the expectation of free speech through social media.

It was difficult to watch senior leaders tweet and blog while Soldiers in the field were occasionally disciplined for doing nothing more than voicing their own opinion. Of course, this is the military, none of us are under the illusions that we service members have the same free speech rights as the rest of the civilian population. Nonetheless the perception of disparity was out there. Generals and Admirals Tweeted and Facebooked while Privates and Lieutenants were blocked from reaching the same sites.

The disparity needed to be address. The DoD recognized the disparity as well as the changing landscape of social media and its implications in the broader scheme. So, smart dudes gathered, panels conducted, and recommendations made. And after months of speculation, this last week the policy went public.

Basically, the new, unified policy allows access to social media outlets (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, blogs) while still authorizing commanders in the field to "defend against malicious activity” and to bar access to sites with pornography, gambling or hate-crime content. Commanders can also block access to social media sites, particularly YouTube, as necessary to protect a mission or protect sufficient bandwidth, but, and this is a big but, only on a temporary basis.

It's no secret that I stopped posting to my blog because my local command in Iraq was uncomfortable with my blogging while they restricted the content of their own Soldiers. I had no problem shutting things down in the name of fairness and good order and discipline, but privately, I didn't enjoy seeing higher institutions blog away while those of us in the field watched from behind a firewall of mistrust.

Like many other Milbloggers, I don't thing this is going to have a huge impact on the great scheme of things. Soldiers that want to blog and Facebook did it anyway. They simply used friends and family members to get out their message. If anything, this new policy is more of an assist to commanders in the field, who now have clear guidance from their higher how to handle social media.

The public should see this as a reminder that there is a small percentage of the population serving you with honor and pride, and while we defend your rights of free expression, we are not granted them ourselves. I'll get back to writing about writing next week.