On Rejection

I’ve just received my 57th form rejection email for my novel. I like to print them out and keep them in a file. It hasn’t slowed me too much because there are a lot of agents out there.

In the mean time I keep writing short stories and flash fiction and have started another novel, so I stay busy. If you’re going to write, you need a thick skin.

The only thing that bugs me are the agents that ask you to send pages and don’t read them. I understand agents are busy people and all that, but if they’re so busy don’t ask for pages in the first place. (By the way, I’m not just talking queries with attached pages, I’m talking requested pages here.)

How do I know they don’t bother to read? I’ve started to place a tiny, almost invisible pencil mark under the paper clip holding my pages on snail mail submissions, and the pages have come back pristine, the clip in it’s same position. (On e-mail submissions, who knows?)

I don’t care if an agent reads my stuff and writes back, “This is crap.” At least I know the agent took the time, and I didn’t waste the postage. But don’t ask for pages you don’t intend to read. Writers pay postage. It shows a lack of class to ignore work that you requested. Don’t do it.

It won’t stop me from sending out queries, and you know, it’s not that hard to act like a human being.

Got to go. More queries to mail.

The Lonliness of the Professional Writer

ImageHello, writers. I’m talking to those of you who are struggling with your first novel, short story, article, whatever, and perhaps you’re waiting for inspiration, the muse, or lighting to strike before you write that bestseller or Pulitzer Prize winning piece. I’ve got news. It’s not going to happen. At least not right away.

Writing is a solitary, sometimes horribly lonely profession. It’s also a job. Professionals will tell you that you have to make time to write every day, and you have to do it. SET ASIDE TIME. Don’t use it to go on line. Don’t check Facebook, Twitter, or whatever other sites you use. Write. Set a word goal and keep to it. If you hate it, you can always revise. Not everything you write is going to be good, but if you keep writing, you will get better. The important thing is that you keep at it.

Keep doing it until you get the story finished. Then go back and edit. Your first draft probably won’t be great, but that’s okay. You can edit and polish and edit and polish. Do this. Constantly.

Another thing: hear your writing. Take the time to read it. Out loud. Listen to the rhythms and cadence. Does it sound right? Would you want to listen to it on an audio book or does it make you cringe. If it’s the latter, revise. Again.

Ask people to read what you’ve written. Start with friends and move on to writing groups and people who will be more critical, but thoughtfully critical. Get to know other writers. There are a lot out there, and many of them are going through the same things you are. Get to know them. They are (for the most part) wonderfully supportive and helpful.

Finally, read. I don’t mean just best sellers. Read everyone. Learn different styles and genres. If you appreciate good writing, your writing will get better. Don’t get discouraged. It will happen if you keep at it. Read short stories, novels, graphic novels, whatever. Just read.

Carry a notebook and make notes about what you see in the world. If you’re really sneaky, you can jot down a good turn of phrase. It works. I’ve stolen a bunch from my kids.

Writers’ conferences are also a great resource, if you can afford them. You’ll discover a world of people who, like you, are trying to figure this writing business out. The speakers and even the agents who come are extremely pleasant, helpful and full of good information.

Finally never stop learning. There’s never a point where you can’t discover something new.

You can’t sit around waiting for inspiration to hit like a lightening bolt from the sky because it probably won’t. But remember, you aren’t alone.


Flash! Friday # 28 — WINNERS!

Flash! Friday

I knew you all would come up with hilarious, terrifying, creepy, stirring adventures for our poor Lady of Shallot. If only Waterhouse and Tennyson were around to weigh in, eh?? (Maybe we’ll save that for a future contest… heh heh.) You all continually amaze me with your inventiveness and skill. Thank you for coming out to play! Thanks too to judge Kinza Carpenter Shores for her fine work this week. Thank you, all!


Judge Kinza Carpenter Shores says, I love judging but was sad this week not to be able to write for it too! What a compelling prompt. The stories were all so wonderful. Seriously. Sooooo many good stories! 



Dawn Nikithser, “Captaining.” I loved the poetry. Really well written, it had a very inviting cadence and rhythm. The sentiment was clear and strong and the imagery beautiful, and even though it is…

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More Summer Movie Mahem

With the arrival of the new Superman movie at the theaters, I feel compelled to note (and I’m by no means the first to do so) the new trend in action movies. These loud spectacles roar into the theaters chock full of CGI effects where whole cities are destroyed willy nilly until the beleaguered hero/heroes finally restore order. The plots, such as they are, are thin, the characters are even thinner, but the violence and decibel level is way over the top. The object, of course, is to lure teenage to twenty-year old guys to the movies, and it’s working so Hollywood sees no need to change the formula.

Look, I’m not damning all action movies. I loved Batman, but Christopher Nolan created deeply resonant characters in his Batman trilogy. He also created the haunting Memento and Insomnia, both character-driven films.

The new Superman film could have been another great picture. It starts out with a pretty compelling story but morphs into the standard action CGI fest.

I understand that action is where the big money lies in Hollywood, but movies like Mama Mia and Bridesmaids also had pretty respectable showings at the box office and not one building collapsed.

More and more I find myself searching out indie movies because on their small budgets, they must tell stories, not rely on booming sound tracts and special effects to do the job for them. Or maybe I’ll just give up and leave the movies to the guys and watch cable. There’s some pretty good stuff on cable now.

Game of Thrones for TV

Now that Game of Thrones has ended its third season, I’ve heard a lot of grumbling from people who read the books about the ways in which the series has deviated from its source material. To those who are upset about it, I say, deal with it.

An adaptation of a book is not a recreation of the book, line by line, character by character. It has to be streamlined for dramatic purposes, and characters who are interesting, but not essential to the plot, generally are eliminated. Let’s face it, HBO isn’t producing a Shakespeare play here. It’s trying to bring to life several sprawling 900-plus page novels, filled with characters.

Having written video scripts, I cannot fathom how they condensed the material into three ten hour seasons. Would I like to see more? Of course! I love GOT. I wish it ran at least 16 or 20 episodes, but it doesn’t. So that means, things must be condensed, they would still be in the first book.

I also read the books, and I still have to go back and double check names, but I remember the story. I think David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have done an excellent job in capturing the essence of George R.R. Martin’s story, which can be boiled down to one line, “In the Game of Thrones you win or die.”

I think those who get upset about the changes might do better to take the series as a separate piece from the books. After all, changes were made to The Lord of the Rings, but it didn’t change the essence of the story. The movies worked well because Peter Jackson clearly understood and loved the source material.

The same could be said for Benioff and Weiss and Game of Thrones.




He lies on his bed and watches the light patterns change on the ceiling.

It’s been twelve hours and seventeen minutes since he stepped into the front door and stood amid the balloons and friends and relatives who crowded too close, hugging and kissing and crying. Though he wanted to run away screaming, he forced himself to smile and say how glad he was to be home.

The house smelled like a mix of roast beef and cherry pie, but it made his stomach tighten. He missed his mom’s cooking, but there was so much of it. He had gotten out of the habit of eating, and they just kept trying to feed him. The home seems so alien it scares him. When he and his dad and Uncle Brad and his cousins Pauly and Jimbo went out to smoke cigars, he stood with his back to the house on high alert in the deepening twilight.

“You seem a little out of it,” Pauly said.

“Just tired. It was a long plane ride.”

“Now you can go to college like you always wanted,” his dad says.

He doesn’t know if he can focus any more, and even if he could, he can’t see himself fitting in with carefree undergrads. They may have read more novels or know more science, but he’s seen guys lit up like Fourth of July rockets. He’s seen a guy cut in half. He’s picked up body parts after a landmine blew up a jeep full of his friends. After three tours, there isn’t much he hasn’t seen

They call him a hero, but he’s not. He’s a survivor. He has a few scars on his arms and hands, but he’s intact.  In country they called him Magic Man.

Now he hears screams all the time. He jumps when anyone comes up behind him. He lies on his bed and stares at the ceiling because he can’t sleep, and he’s afraid if he goes to the doctor, he’ll be branded a mental case and won’t be able to get a job.

He hears scratching at his door and bolts up, but it’s only Webster, his parents Golden Retriever. Webster’s gait is a little slower these days, but he still jumps on the bed with grace and crawls up against him. He gives a soft whimper and butts him.

It’s a small comfort to lie against this yellow dog, to feel his warmth and run his fingers through his soft fur. The simple repetition is soothing. He listens in the dark to Webster’s panting and hears him begin to snore.

He edges closer to the dog and wraps his arms around him. As always a curious sense of calm descends on him, and his body adjusts to the rhythm of the dog’s breathing. There’s no judgement, no too eager attempt to be cheerful, just unconditional acceptance. Webster might as well be part of him.

“Help me,” he says. “I want to come home.”


Turkey Vultures

Emily heard the heavy thud out on the deck, quickly followed by a second, and she hurried to the French doors to look out. Her hand rising to her throat, she took a step back at the sight of the two turkey vultures squatting on opposite rails of the deck, their red heads sunk down between their shoulders as they stared at the door.

Thomas meowed at her feet and stretched his paws against the glass.

“Look at those nasty things,” Emily said. “Something must be dead close by.”

She hated this house. With its long winding driveway, it was built deep in the woods that drew closer around it every year. Colin liked what he called “the serenity”, the wildlife that came right up to the door: the deer, the foxes, the squirrels and chipmunks. The lack of crime.

Emily grew up in the city. The pigeons in Washington Square had always been enough nature for her, but she understood Colin’s logic. After all, she had been mugged right in front of their city townhouse. She hadn’t been hurt, but Colin was upset.

“My God, Em, we aren’t safe by our own home!”

“But this could have happened anywhere,” she said.

After she gave birth to Hannah then Will, Colin said it was time they moved out of the city because kids needed open space. “The schools are much better. We can go public or private. We’ll buy a house close to the train, so you can go in town whenever you want,” he said.

“But my job. It’s just so inconvenient to drive in and out.” Emily loved working for the food bank. True, it didn’t pay much, but she felt productive writing grant proposals. When she needed to work from home, it wasn’t a problem, and nobody cared if she brought the kids in with her.

“Darling, you don’t need to work,” Colin said. “When the kids get older, then you can go back full time. If you’re bored, volunteer at school. Get to know the other moms around here.”

But there were no other moms because their house sat alone down this long driveway on three acres of ground that bordered the park. The women in their neighborhood worked. It wasn’t a development, so there were no children.

When the time came, they chose a well-known private school for the kids, and Emily dutifully volunteered for as many events as she could manage, but she never quite felt that she belonged. Her comfortable jeans and tee shirts seemed too casual, but she never seemed to find the right sort of things, even when she shopped at the same stores as the other moms. When there was a project or a committee forming, the women were quick to call her, but afterward Emily found herself alone.

“You’re not trying hard enough,” Colin said. “We go to these school parties, and you talk about things that don’t interest them. No one cares about the food bank. You should take up tennis or golf. Join a book club.”

Emily did what Colin suggested and made a few friends, but she always felt as though she were wearing a mask. As the years passed she thought she was becoming a different Emily and supposed that was a good thing. She threw birthday and holiday parties, and after a while began to get lunch invitations on a regular basis. Maybe Colin was right. She just needed to change her attitude to become a brittle, social Emily.

Still, sometimes like today, she’d catch herself dreaming of sidewalks crowded with people, the little boutiques and cafes, the museums.

From far off, Emily heard a bang and remembered they were shooting deer in the park because the population was getting out of control. A three-day campaign had started yesterday. The shot startled the turkey vultures, and they took off in a flurry of wings.

She shivered, but went back to tidying the house. She finished four loads of wash, popped a chicken into the oven, and figured it was time to get the mail.

When she opened the front door, another bang startled her, and she stood staring towards the park. Colin said the deer were destructive; there were far too many of them, and the herd needed thinning.

“Whenever you think how pretty they are, remember deer ticks,” he always said. “Nasty buggers they are.”

Colin tested positive for Lyme Disease last summer. Now he warned everyone about the dangers of deer ticks.

A deer scrambled across the driveway, followed by a second and third. Goodness, there was a whole herd. They disappeared down the small hill on the right. Emily waited until they disappeared before she headed up to the box.

A last deer crashed the through the trees, stumbled, and landed almost at Emily’s feet. The deer’s sides heaved for a moment before she gave a great shudder. She gazed up at Emily with unseeing dark eyes.

Blood begin to spread around the deer’s body.

Two men dressed in dark clothing with orange caps and vests came through the woods. “Sorry ma’am,” one said. “This one was wounded. She was a runner though. We’ll get her out of here right away.”

“She’s on my property! I have children! Someone might have been killed!”

“No, ma’am,” said the first man. “She was shot in the park and took off.”

“It’s horrible. Horrible.”

“Sorry you had to see this, ma’am,” the second man said.

The men hefted the deer and headed back through the woods, their orange-capped heads sinking down between their shoulders as they bore her weight. The deer’s head tipped back, and Emily stared into her lifeless eyes. The deer seemed to whisper to her.

There is no escape.

Behind Emily, the big house loomed, dark and silent. Below, Colin’s Volvo turned up the hill, and the children tuck their heads out the windows of the car, arms flapping.

They’re coming to pick my bones, Emily thought.




The Champion

They hanged Rudy in the morning. Strung him up and took turns shooting at him long after he was dead.  Poor Rudy was too sick to care; he barely whimpered when they dragged him out to the big old tree by the dried up well and put the rope around his neck. They dumped his body in the well.

At least he was free.

Jack moved slowly over to the edge of the cell and put his mouth against the corner. It rained last night and a trickle of water continued to drip into the dark box. With the downpour last night, they’d gotten a kind of reprieve when the water poured through a crack in the cement and they were able to satisfy their terrible thirst. He didn’t know if it was a mercy or not. In the end, they were all going to the same place.

A few of the smaller ones looked like they’d only last a day or two more at best. Flies settled on them, and they were too weak to knock them off. They labored to breathe. Jack nudged one over to the corner to drink some of the healing water. He should have let him go, but it wasn’t in Jack’s nature.

That’s what made him a champion for so long, but even champions wore out eventually. He couldn’t last much longer. His bones ached and his empty belly rumbled. Sores covered his body.

He heard footsteps and drunken laughter. “Let’s get the big bastard.”

“I don’t know. He’s still got some fight in him.“

“Don’t worry. How much fight could have left? Anyway, it’ll make it more fun. That last one went too easy.”

“Idiot. He’s got teeth.”

“So what?”

The voices came closer, and Jack moved to the back of the cell. They wouldn’t get him without a fight.

He hated the men, especially the short, skinny one with the black hair. He smelled like blood and evil.

For a while he used to dream of breaking free, of running away, and no one would catch him. He’d be Lord Jackson again, the king of the track, fastest of the fast.

A rumbling sound in the distance made Jack’s ears prick up. A storm rolling in, maybe? At least the others would have another day of water.

“Oh shit!” The men stopped coming and started to run.

Cars came roaring into the compound, and voices shouted. When the cell door opened, Jack’s body trembled, and he felt himself fall.

Two women and a man came inside. “Oh God,” the one woman said. “It’s worse than I thought. Look at them, Marcia.”

The second woman was already picking up Daisy and brushing away the flies, “Poor baby, we’ll take care of you.” Daisy tried to raise her head. “Shh, girl. We’re here to help.”

The man approached Jack. “Hey, big fella,” he said softy. “Look at you. I won’t hurt you.”

Jack wanted to bite this human, but he had no strength. The man ran his hand down Jack’s side. “You’ve been here a while haven’t you?” He waited for the man to hit him, but he continued to pet him, his hands gentle. He pulled something out of his pocket a black rubbery thing that attached to his ears and had a silver bottom. He placed it against Jack’s chest. After a minute he looked up.

“How’re the others, Lisa?”

“Bad. Two are barely alive; this one is a little better. How’s the big guy?”

“I think he’ll be okay. He’s dehydrated and starving, but he’s a strong. I bet he was something in his day.”

“They all were once. All these beautiful dogs.”

Jack felt the man’s arms slide around him. “Okay, fella, I’m gonna pick you up and carry you to our ambulance. We’ll get some fluids and antibiotics in you, and you’ll feel a lot better.”

Jack whimpered in terror when the man wrapped him in something soft and lifted him, but the man was gentle as if he knew where all the cuts and sores were.

Blinking in the bright sunlight, Jack saw police cars and strange looking trucks. He saw other humans carrying greyhounds out of their cells and taking them to the trucks. Two men in uniforms stood with a third man by the well and stared down into it, their faces angry, but Jack didn’t see the men who killed his friends.

The man cradled his head against his chest so he couldn’t turn it.

The man said, “It’s okay, big guy. You’re safe now. No one will hurt you again.”

Jack wanted to tell the man he once was a champion, but he thought maybe the man already knew.


31 and Still Going

I just finished the Story a Day Challenge, which was to write one story every day in May. I am not a short story writer by nature, but thought why not? I have to say it was terrific to have to come with a story every day. Sometimes I followed the prompts; sometimes I didn’t. The important thing, however, was every day I was writing.

That’s the key to it. Writers have to write. No excuses. I’ve stopped wandering around the internet when an idea doesn’t come right away and switched over to something else. A scene that’s not working in a longer piece often makes a good short story. Not saying I’ve solved the mystery of writing by any means, but this has been an eye-opening experience.

I’ve also started to take trips around other blog sites to read other writers and am so amazed by the quality of your writing. I’m learning to appreciate genres I never liked before.

I’m still churning out stories, some of which I’ll post, but not every day. Just wanted to say to all the writers out there–published, unpublished, pros and beginners–best of luck and keep on writing.