Fiction Writing and Other Oddities

Wednesday, May 20, 2009


I can't believe May is heading toward closure already. We've had a difficult spring since my mother-in-law was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Unfortunately, the chemo was a little rough on her and she passed away right before Mother's Day.

Good News (If Any)

I've got a ton of submissions out. A few of them should be getting back to me next week. Note to the editors reading my manuscripts: if it's not good news, delay all you want.

I did submit a short story today to Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine. And I submitted a short-short story to Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine last week. I'm on a short story binge.

What I'm Reading Now

GOLD OF KINGS by Davis Bunn. It's a mystery/action/adventure story similar to the recent mega-hits like The DaVinci Code. It's fun and so far I'm enjoying the change of pace. I like the hero in the story (the poor chump) but I'm so-so on the heroine. I guess I'm a sucker for a guy who keeps getting the raw end of the deal.

I also just finished plowing through a couple of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Mags. The last few months I've been in a mystery mood. I tend to go in phases like that, where I get the itch to read books in a particular genre. I also bought a bunch of Columbo DVD's. And some of the original Dark Shadows DVD's.

A few months ago, I was in a "ghost story" mood and was shocked to find how few really good, spooky ghost stories there are. There is my favorite, The Haunting of Hill House, by Shirley Jackson and then…um. Well, now, we start to have a few problems finding others in that vein. Modern horror is okay, but I really, really like the understated, creeping horror without the constant overwhelming blood-baths and orgies. I'm still dying to find some new ghost stories—any length—that are more eerie than gory. I end up going back to this huge volume of tales of the supernatural published in 1940—but I think I've read everything in there at least five times.

Hence…Dark Shadows. This weekend, I'm going to indulge in that guilty pleasure and see the very beginning where Victoria Winters arrives and …

What I'm Writing Now

I was supposed to be writing a historical novella for Christmas, but I just can't concentrate on it. I may have to switch to a contemporary murder mystery, instead. Or a different historical. I have a historical murder mystery brewing that I'd like to write, as well as a contemporary one.

My real problem is that I'm sort of waiting for word on some other manuscripts I've submitted. I don't want to build up a pile of manuscripts in a particular "series" unless I can get the series off the ground to begin with.

Decisions, decisions, decisions.

What—If Any—Thoughts I have

I'm back on my old "characterization" hobby-horse. I keep returning again-and-again to that topic. As a writer, I firmly believe the story IS the character. If you have terrific characters, then the plot will flow naturally from the characters and their predicament. It doesn't take much—all you have to do is figure out what the characters really would do given their personalities and the set of circumstances you initially thrust them into. And then you subsequently have to make every good decision your heroine or hero makes into a bad decision that just gets them deeper into trouble.

Sort of like what happens in real life.

It sounds so simple and yet it is so hard to do well. It's very difficult to give your characters free will and then have them go off into unplanned (and undesired) directions and have to completely redo your plot. As a writer, I really resent my hero's arrogant presumption that he has a life and can make his own decisions, thank you very much, and to heck with what I planned for the plot. And my heroines…well. She's usually even worse.

I really hate having to redo the entire plot half-way through because of uncooperative characters. And I have to do it every single time! Just once, I'd like to win that argument and have the book turn out as I originally conceived it.

Anyway, I do have one tip or exercise. Pick up a magazine every day and randomly select a picture. And then write a 250 word story about that picture. Trust me, if you want to become a better writer, exercises like that will work wonders for your creative muscles.

Besides, it's fun.