Archive for December, 2017

Never made the connection before, have you? (Neither have I, to be honest.) And why is that? Because they don’t want us to. If I never blog again, you’ll know why…

  1. If the job’s done right, no one ever sees the hand behind the scenes.
  2. You can train for it, and you can practice for it, but when push comes to shove, you’ll only survive if you were Bourne for it.*
  3. Eventually, you can go to lots of exotic locations and someone else will pay for it.
  4. When you’re on assignment, you live or die on your own.
  5. If you make a mistake with a gun, someone you never see will attack you.
  6. Sometimes it’s better to use an assumed name.
  7. Your assignments will be handled through “the agency.”
  8. You know you’re good when someone has a contract on you.
  9. A single failure can end your career.
  10. You don’t retire; you die on the job.

*Sorry, I couldn’t resist.



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If you want to know what it’s like to be a writer, the best way to learn, obviously, is to write something. I recommend it; you might learn something about yourself, aside from your writing skills. For this exercise, it doesn’t have to be anything good, nor does it even have to be original. Fan fiction will do. No one else is ever going to see it; in fact, you should probably shred it when you’re done. Having someone read it is not the point (although that is a part of being a writer, so you can choose to have someone read it if you really want to).

The second-best (and far easier) way is to read a story by Theodore Sturgeon called “Microcosmic God” (1941), reprinted in The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Vol 1 (1970). In it, a scientist creates his own race of miniature sentient beings inhabiting a sealed environment which he controls completely. They live an accelerated lifespan compared to humans, and he watches them evolve as they solve the life-threatening dilemmas he sets for them. Eventually, they… Well, I’ll let you read it.

The point is, that Kidder, the scientist in the story, illustrates what it is like to be a writer: You control everything that happens, and (to an extent) how the characters react and evolve.* I have no doubt that was the inspiration for the story.

The problem is that you control everything. Sometimes your characters take over the story, but sometimes they have absolutely no idea what to do next. If you’re inclined to let characters have their head (as I am), this can be a disaster and bog you down for days. If you’re a writer who does not outline, and writes what comes when it comes for re-arranging later, it can take you years to put out a book.

Readers, unfortunately, have a hard time with this concept. If you haven’t tried to create an entire world, with people and scenery and a history that you are writing as it happens, you can’t know how hard it is. So I recommend you either try, or you read Sturgeon. Either will illustrate the difficulties of creation.

Warning: If you are planning to be a writer, you could do worse than reading a lot of Sturgeon (and Bradbury. And CL Moore.). Just don’t let the fact that they do it so much better than mere mortals keep you from trying it yourself.


*I firmly believe characters have minds of their own and may possess definite opinions as to their path in life.


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My wife is into a particular series of books that has an active fan group, particularly on line. Lately she has developed a new pet peeve, one with which I whole-heartedly agreed as soon as I heard it. It is as follows:

A great many people seem to want spoilers. They cannot abide not knowing what will happen in the future, even though there may be several more books in the series already published and the answers are there to find. Now, however, she is running into people who want spoilers for events that not only occur in the next book, but the same book, or even in the same chapter.


Are they that lazy? And forget about being lazy, if they hate the writing so much, why are they reading the book?

Notice I didn’t ask if they hate the story. I’m talking about the writing. Writers spend anywhere from a few minutes to a few months (some spend years) picking and choosing exactly the correct turn or phrase for their masterpieces. (I tend toward the “minutes” end of the spectrum, but still, I do try.) And they spend even longer plotting the story, laying out clues and foreshadowing so that they can lead you down a path that ends in a huge surprise. That’s why we do it. If it wasn’t meant to be a surprise, we wouldn’t bother.

Seriously, we spend far more time writing this stuff than anyone ever will reading it. All we ask is that you invest the time to realize the experience as we have laid it out for you. It’s not like you have to do a lot of work. In fact, it’s supposed to be fun.

I’m not trying to be a curmudgeon here (okay, I am), but trust me, it would be much easier and faster simply to publish a synopsis or an outline, if that’s all anyone wants. But we write stories and books because we love them, and we want you to love them, too. We want you to appreciate the craftsmanship that goes into them. Reading until you get to an interesting point and then running to the Internet to get a spoiler is like buying a holiday mocha, sucking off the sprinkles and whipped cream, and throwing the coffee away. I mean, would you watch the first half of Designated Survivor and then call a friend in an earlier time zone to find out what happens after the commercial?

I guess one could wait for the books to be turned into mini-series. But beware, there are no commercials on cable. You’ll just have to enjoy the whole thing the way the author intended.


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Balancing Act

There is only so much time in a day. The trick is to make the best use of that time. Hence my problem.

I have switched in the past year from writing short stories to self–publishing novels. This creates difficulties, because it turns out that writing novels on a self-publisher’s schedule requires even more time than writing a respectable number of short stories in a year. (This is exacerbated by the fact that no one expects you to write short stories on a schedule.) It requires, in my case, about twice the time.

Given this, I have abandoned writing any new short stories for the foreseeable future. I still have a catalog of unsold stories, however, and I am still trying to sell them. In our wonderful Internet age, new markets spring to life every month, unlike the Dark Ages of the Nineteen-Mumble-Mumbles when I started. So all those stories that haven’t yet found a home need constant attention in case a new possibility opens up.

But what happens when a new market opens that fits a story in your inventory perfectly–except that the story’s the wrong length? Can you extend a too-short story? You can, but it’s a tricky and dangerous game. Cutting down a too-long story is easier, but not easy, particularly when (as in the example which prompts this post) you’re talking several hundred words (a typewritten double-spaced page).

On what do you spend your time? The short story, which if sold will generate a few hundred bucks, or the novel, which is going to be published but each copy will only generate a couple of dollars and whose ultimate sales numbers are as speculative as that story sale? Not only that, but the story market has a finite closing date, whereas your book has a publishing schedule that you’d really like to keep.

If I were a best-selling novelist, this wouldn’t even a issue, but I’m not and it is. I know which way I’m leaning…



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