Saturday, January 21, 2023

The best writing advice I know

Advice to would-be writers

All of the good advice that I know has been said already, hundreds of times, and published in a number of how-to-write books. Still, I’ve recently been asked to give talks at a local writer’s group, and it’s made me think about what advice I would give in general at this point, looking back over almost 40 years of writing and 35 years of being published. I've said a lot of this before, I'm sure.

1) Only take advice from the successful. It’s not that the unsuccessful might not have read a few good bits of advice and be able to parrot them, but why take the chance they got it right? (I laugh whenever I think of an amateur writer who was so sure he knew the “rule” – which isn’t one – about avoiding adverbs, and then circled every word that ended in -ly, like “family” and “only,” which are not adverbs at all!) There are plenty of how-to books out there by the likes of King, Evanovich, and so on. Go read those.

1-a) you could argue that I’m not successful, and I wouldn’t argue against you. I’m more successful by counting numbers of readers than most writers I’ve met over the years, but no, I’m not King or Evanovich or anywhere near that. So take this one bit of advice from me, and then go listen to them  for the rest of your advice. It’s what I did as a young writer. I read every how-to book in the library and then started buying more. For self-publishing, read how-to books on the business by people who have books in the top 500 pretty often. You can safely ignore the rest of us.

2) John MacDonald, the mystery writer, is the first person credited with saying “you have to write a million practice words before you can write a good book.” He’s right. Don’t fret and revise a whole lot at first. Write a book, finish it, put it aside (no, sorry, you’re not likely the exception and it’ll probably suck, so set it aside for now), and write the next. (No, sorry again, writing plans and character sheets and drawing maps is not “writing a book.” That’s delaying the writing of a book. Write scenes. Action. Dialog.) After you’ve finished four or five books, start revising/rewriting the best one or two. Maybe one about then will be good enough to sell (to an agent, publisher, or if self-published to an audience.) After a few finished second drafts, go back and look at that first book. Ouch, it sucks, doesn’t it? Glad you didn’t submit or publish it? I bet you are. :D

3) Pay for a couple of workshops with good writers whose work you know and admire, and who have a good reputation as clear teachers, and get feedback from them on your best work.

3-a) Amateur critique groups are of limited use. Where you can learn by joining them is how to analyze how others’ stories went wrong. That’ll teach you not to do that. What you hear about your own story/chapters isn’t going to be all that useful (refer back to point 1). I’d never stay in one for more than six months. You’ll learn what you need to know by then. A writers’ support group is another matter, where you trade information on markets, report how much you’ve written this past week, and cheer on others’ successes. That’s fine. Just don’t fall into the critique trap. Let editors and audiences be your critiquers—they’ll like it, or they won’t. You’ll earn money, or you won’t. That’s the best form of critique.

4) Once you’ve learned to write fairly well with your four or five books, you need to learn the business of writing. It’s a whole ‘nother topic than the craft of writing, but you need to understand it too. There are protocols. There are tax matters to consider. Some advertising works and some is a waste of money. There are ways to be cheated by the unscrupulous. You need to grasp all this as well.

5) You need to read—a lot. Fiction of the last half-century, in and out of your genre, award winners and best-sellers. The point isn’t to say “I can do better than this” (if you haven’t done better, you’re only embarrassing yourself by saying that), but to say “What did this writer do right, and how can I learn from that?” Or: “Why did the reading audience or this prize committee enjoy this one, even if I didn’t?” Also read non-fiction, articles and books, so you actually know a few new things every month. And listen to people, so you know people and how they tick. Listen to how they speak. Eavesdrop on yelling arguments in public and on tight, angry, quiet ones in the corner of the restaurant. Ask people questions: most folks love talking about themselves. I enjoy asking older people questions about their past. “Were you wild as a teenager?” “You’ve been married for fifty years, but who is the one who got away?” I asked a couple kids this year, whom I was doing an art project with, “who is the best artist in your class, and why?” I hear the greatest stories, and I love when people I had believed I knew surprised me with a new view of them. All of that goes into the mix for my fiction.

So, to sum up, write a lot, read a lot, work hard. 

 



How do you do all that and work a day job? It’s challenging. Add children under 5, and it’s nigh-on impossible. You might need to delay a serious try at writing until the kids are in school. Or even until your retirement. You have to sacrifice other activities to have the time to write because the reality for us all is “there are only so many waking hours in the day.” You need to be working sometimes when peers are having fun. If you have a partner, that person needs to be supportive and understanding that half of your weekends will be taken up with writing. A writing friend of mine has saved some hours in her life by never dusting: “Just gets dusty again anyway.” I admire her choice. The tough-love truth is: it takes many hours to get competent and more hours to learn the business of writing. You’ll eventually learn that grandiose dreams of success seldom come true as you watch peers fall away, and you may learn that a lifetime of writing seldom averages out to more than minimum wage because there are a number of $0 years at the start even if there is success later. But if you persevere, you may do okay at it. One in a million who say “I want to be a writer” end up like King or Connelly or Quinn or GRRM. Most don’t reach those heights.

And this is why you have to love the craft of it, the making up of characters and their stories, for its own sake. For years—and maybe for a lifetime—that’s the only reward of it. If you find no joy in the doing, don’t do it. Find something you do love to do—and go do that instead.

And that’s pretty much the best general advice I have. For specific craft advice, like on point of view and character development and thrilling action scenes, better-selling and more respected authors than I have given that. Go listen to them, not to me.

Friday, January 20, 2023

audio book sales

 On audible, both the Gray series and one of my Oil Apocalypse series are currently on sale. 

As both of these are published by trade publishers, not myself, I am not 100% certain how long these sales will last. For Gray, you need only to go to your favorite sales outlet.

For Desolated, you need to follow this link:

https://www.audiobooks.com/promotions/promotedBook/436103/desolated?refId=57242

Thank you for listening, reading, and recommending my books to your friends!

Saturday, October 1, 2022

Let Hurricane Ian motivate you to get your emergency preparation in order.

I hope if you're in Florida, you're okay and your losses from this storm were minimal. If you are elsewhere, please take the opportunity to really think through what people in places like Fort Myers are going through and will be going through for weeks to come. Then act in your own defense.

 

Photo from ready.gov

Electricity may be out for a month. Water may not be drinkable for a month. Getting bottled water is going to be a challenge. People are going to get tired of eating cold canned food on crackers. And when they run out of crackers in a day or two, and no stores have electricity yet, they'll wish they had them again.

It's imperative, no matter where you live, to have food and drinking water enough for everyone in your household, including pets, for at least a week. Two weeks would be better. You need cash money tucked somewhere, because when electricity goes, you can't pay with a card or get cash. You need life-saving meds. It'd be smart to have a crank weather radio and a crank phone charger. You need your insurance, IDs, and other paperwork photographed and online, so that if you are caught out of your home and have only a phone, you can still prove who you are and get insurance and FEMA claims going quickly.

In the US, ready.gov has a lot of good information on prepping for disasters. If you aren't in hurricane or earthquake country, you can still lose electricity for two weeks at a time, due to storm or grid failures or cyberattack on the grid, so this means you, no matter who/where you are.

And FFS, people, "mandatory evacuation" means just that. As I write this, the death toll isn't really known, but Coast Guard divers have found bodies in submerged homes that they haven't started to count. Those homes were in mandatory evacuation areas. Just to be clear, "mandatory" means "must," and "evacuation" means get your butt out of there. Half of the deaths from this storm will be of people who were told to evacuate but thought they knew better than the experts. You don't know better than teams of PhD meteorologists, and quit thinking that you do. Get out when they tell you to. Don't foolishly choose death.

On your birthday every year, review your plan and change out any stored food like crackers, tinned meat, peanut butter, nuts, etc. Rotate them through your regular pantry and buy fresh for the emergency supply. Practice fire evacuation with your family and make sure you all have an off-site contact and meeting place in case of a terrible disaster. 

If you feel moved to donate somewhere, may I suggest my writer friend AM Scott's group? She teaches chainsaw safety (when she's not out chainsawing herself post-disaster) for Team Rubicon, military veterans who do disaster relief, providing a healthy outlet for some troubled vets, too. They are active in Florida as I type this: https://teamrubiconusa.org/support-squad/ or just type them in through google and donate from your google account. Or use amazon smile for your purchases in October, choose them as your charity, and let a donation go to them through that. Thank you.

Stay safe.

Sunday, August 21, 2022

my encounter with a baby rattler

 I was weeding early one morning, pulled up a hunk of weeks, and there was a baby diamondback in my hand. It was calm--no biting, hissing, twisting--so I was calm and put it back down. ("Oops, sorry," I said, though I know it doesn't speak Human languages at all.)

Baby rattlers have a bad reputation: they don't know to conserve venom, so they may deliver every bit they have into you (not a good thing). But it was early enough or some other smack upside the head of luck left me with nothing but a slightly amusing story.

Bad photo in low light, but here it is, caught in a bucket. It has a single white rattle so could make no noise. It was relocated to a wild area.

There is no truth to the rumor that I am now a "snake whisperer."



 


Friday, July 8, 2022

What I'm writing next

I'm about to dive down into my first book in a sort-of new genre. That's an "on the run" outdoor thriller. There are bad guys, but there is also nature, making the chase more difficult. (If you've read Michael Koryta's Those Who Wish Me Dead, that's an example--I've read others but am spacing out on the titles right now.)

I've spent the last month researching the genre and doing three outlines. The three books, should I write them all, are unrelated to each other except for being in the same thriller subgenre/niche. Three different environments. Three different problems. Quick to start and then the whole thing is a race for the main character. Go go go! Try and live until the last chapter!

I will release these as Lou Cadle books for they share the thing all my books have in common: survival struggles, with nature itself as a major antagonist. (My World War II spy thriller will always be a bit of an outlier, as Nazis aren't a force of nature, just another kind of life-threatening danger.)

Almost no one bought my crime books in a related pen name, though I surely enjoyed writing them for the interesting voice/main character and the fun of (by proxy) robbing a bank and a slimy fake preacher. At the same time I was writing those, I was writing elsewhere as well, though I can't connect you to that. It's time to write more Lou Cadle books, as it has been over a year since Fire was released. I'll get the first one out late this year or early next, I believe. Hope you read and enjoy them when they come out. I do so enjoy writing a fast-paced thriller.

Thanks so much for reading my books.