Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Over 850 Books Read on Authonomy and Slushpilereader!

I've read over 850 books on authonomy and Slush Pile Readers and I feel very ADD. But that was the old way of making it to the ED as I tried to read ten or more a day spending way too much time on-line. My attention span must be shrinking as I wonder how good these books are all the way through. It helps / humbles to read all these stories. No wonder why it's so hard to break through - there are so many talented writers out there and so many intense stories. But the problem I have is simple: are these writers able to keep it up throughout their books.

There are scores of fantastic books I've read during my stints on authonomy and slush pile reader, but I've only bought and read three of them all the way through - partially because they were published. There are so many that I'd love to buy and read - man, it'll be a long time before I'm hurting for a good book to read. The three I read are impressive all the way through and I higly recommend all of them.

Remix by Lexi Revelliam. Looking for a murder mystery that's fast pace, fun, and more enjoyable than watching TV? Lexi's book delivers. It's listed as Chick-Lit, but there is such strong hooks that I just couldn't stop reading it. Totally fun. Her charcters are strong and easy to like (or hate). Imagine waking up and finding a guy on your roof? That's how it starts and it only gets better.

Descending by Catherine Chisnall. Good fiction is all about being able to see things from another POV. Sure, we wouldn't do what the characters do, but it's fun to see how someone else would react. Create tension, conflict. My creative writing students always want write peaceful pieces. Not Catherine. Her book puts you in the mind of someone who gets deeper and deeper into a sticky situation - a teacher having an affair with a student. I just couldn't stop reading this; I was dying to find out how it'd end. Like a train wreck, you can't peel your eyes off of this one. Realistic - and thank god I never had to experience anything like this in my real life - but in Catherine world I was able too.

Grumbles Bluff by Karen Bessey Pease. I couldn't help but root from the narrator, an overweight girl who gets teased at school. The story pulled me in as this middle school student has to overcome quite a bit. Such a strong personality that I feel like I know the girls in the story. This one has a lot of emotional ups and down that kept me interested through out. And it makes me want to visit Maine.

All three are excellent and thankfully they have all been published. Treat yourself to these entertaining books.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Get Paid While Writing a Novel

You can get paid to write a novel. Simply work overnight. People that work overnight struggle to stay awake. Bring a laptop to work and receive a salary while writing a best seller. Only back in 1992 when I came up with that idea, I had a word processor that looked surprisingly like a toaster oven instead of a laptop. But the idea was solid.

The county jail was hiring. I applied and filled out a questionnaire, which asked if I knew anyone who has tired cocaine. None of my friends have and neither had I, but I worked in a drug rehab at the time. I knew dozens of people who had used cocaine. So when I had to guess how many people I have come into contact with in the past week that had tried cocaine, I guessed the number to be around 50. Sure, that number seemed a little high, but I did list on the job application where I was currently working.

A couple of weeks went by and I never got a response so I went to the jail to ask about my job status. The deputy pulled out my file. “Hmm, looks like your plenty qualified to work here as a deputy. Ahh, this is flagged. You know 50 people who have tried cocaine. That makes you a high risk. We can’t have people supplying drugs to the inmates.”

I explained my situation.

“In that case, you can have the job if you pass a lie detector test.”

I few days later I returned to take the test. They strapped patches on my fingertips to test the amount of sweat I’d produce. Another node was taped to my wrist to test my heart rate. And a cord wrapped around my chest to monitor my breathing. The man administering the test informed my how each of these variables would indicated if I was lying or not.

Typically, that might scare me, especially if I had something to hide. I didn’t. But I also flashed back to my college psychology class. My professor talked about lie detector tests and said the key to tricking the machine was to act nervous in the opening questions, which were designed to test your truthfulness. Then when asked difficult questions, relax and whatever you answer will come across as true. Armed with that information, I knew whatever I said would come out as true.

“I will ask ten questions that only require a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ response,” the test administer began. I listened confidently as I became acutely aware of my breathing and my pulse.

“First question: Is your name Karl?”

Oh my god, Karl? Is my name Karl? My dad had several relatives named Karl and told my mom that she better name me anything but Karl. He was convinced I was going to be a girl any way. But because of that, my mom couldn’t stop thinking of Karl so that’s how I got my name. My dad never called me Karl. Always Chuck. So am I Karl? I guess. I waited to answer as I start to breath in. It feels the must unnatural. “Yes.”

“Second question: is the color of your shirt blue?”

Is my shirt blue? Don’t look. Of course it’s blue. But I remember learning in science class that a color is the color but a reflection of all the other colors. In other words, blue is actually the absence of blue. So my shirt really isn’t blue, it’s every color except blue. But I’m sure this guy thinks my shirt is blue, as would any normal person. Even I would say it’s blue. I wait for the in take of breath to make my answer sound as awkward as possible. “Yes.”

“Third question: is it true that you worked at Benilde Hall, a drug rehab and then got a job working at juvenile detention with youths involved with drugs.”

This time I tried to keep calm. I felt my heart beating in my ears. A nice and steady beat. I waited until I breathed out and answered calmly, “Yes.”

“Fourth question: did you know at least fifty people from these jobs that had tried cocaine?”

Peaceful. “Yes.”

“Fifth question: have you ever snored cocaine.”

I was feeling great. “No.”

“Question six: have you ever sold cocaine.”


Question seven: do any of your friend use cocaine?”


And so on. When I was done, the administer looked at the results. “This is peculiar. According to the results, it’s a lie that you’re shirt is blue, but everything else is true.” Later, a deputy explained to me that because I lied about the color of my shirt when it looked like my shirt was blue, that I couldn’t be trusted.

I ended up getting a job in a psychiatric hospital working overnight. Sure enough, I was able to bring in my laptop and write a novel called Five Guys Named Johnson, only it was about four guys and none of them were named Johnson. It wasn’t good. But now I’ve written St Peter Killed God, which takes place in a psychiatric hospital. I have to wonder, if I got the job working in the jail, would the setting of my current novel be in a prison instead?

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Writing Coach? I don't need no Writing Coach

I came across a writing coach on the internet. Give me a break. I imagined him blowing a whistle and yelling, “Write!” Does he give writers exercises to improve their creative juices? I have plenty of ideas and didn’t need some coach giving me bits of inspiration. Clichés don’t help me. And I’m an English teacher; I know how to write a sentence. I didn’t need some coach telling me what fragments and run-ons are.

Besides, I wrote a great novel – my writing group told me so. I went part-time for a year to write it (the luxury of being single). It was my third novel (none published) and by far the best one I had written. I honed my craft, writing four drafts. And I wrote about what I knew. I read plenty of books on the subject. I worked in the novel’s setting and knew people with the same job as the main character. What could go wrong?

The first rejection slip made me laugh. I pinned it to my wall. I heard stories of famous writers going through many a rejection. But when I got a dozen rejections without anything more than a polite form letter, I wanted an expert opinion.

I looked up the writing coach.

He published several books so I read them. He taught at a university in the masters of fiction department. Sure, his credentials were good, but what could he tell me? And for the price of $50 per hour, I was skeptical. I sent him my manuscript expecting him to praise it up and down. I thought he’d give me little gems of wisdom like “Keep trying!” And secretly hoped he’d say, “I know this publisher…”

I was wrong.

He sent me a twenty page assessment of my novel. He outlined why it would never be published in its current state. He gave me a list of several dozen books to read – fiction and on writing. He told me to read books in my genre or similar to my own. And then pick out passages and copy it down word for word.

Are you kidding me, I thought. It was degrading. My coach gave me his phone number and asked me to call him (I didn’t). He was worried I’d become suicidal. I guess that happens often in his line of work.

I was humbled. I realized my book wasn’t all that I thought it was. I re-read his email a dozen times and starting ordering and reading the books he suggested. After a couple of years of reading, I was ready to go part-time again and write another draft of my book (thank god I had and understanding wife and no children).

The next draft was better but it took several more drafts (and a couple grand) before I got my writing coach’s approval. He claimed it was the best book out of all the people he coached. It was good enough to be a thesis for my MFA, if I wanted to go that route. With a new touch of confidence, I took it to authonomy.

Authonomy….Not sure what that experience conjures up for you. For me, I got honest feedback and learned even more about my craft.

I used to be frustrated that I wasn’t published. I had this idea in my mind that I wrote well and it was only a matter of time before I was discovered. I wrote with flare and humor. Girlfriends loved my writing.

But things have changed.

As I learned more about writing, I now see weaknesses in my own writing. And as I’ve read more books, I learned there are lots of inspiring books out there that are truly excellent. I’m in awe of great writing.

The hardest part is to accept criticism. It’s a really blow to the ego but it helps immensely. I had to change from believing my writing was great to believing in my ideas. And then when I read some fiction that blew me away, I just wanted to write something decent. And I a stunned at how much great fiction is out there where the writer claims it's only his or hers first draft. I'm obviously not a very good writer, but I have written a pretty good book - thanks to my patience.

I still want to get published. I still have confidence in what I wrote. But after starting my book ten years ago (and nine drafts ago), my expectations are more realistic.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

St Peter Killed God

St Peter Killed God is a novel that I started writing in 2000. I decided to teach part-time in 1999-2000 and then again in 2006-2007 to complete and revise my manuscript. St Peter Killed God made it to the editor's desk and got reviewed by Harper Collins on authonomy - and is currently ranked number one on - - I am optimistic about the future of St Peter Killed God. Slush Pile Reader, a website devoted to readers who vote for their favorite manuscripts on line, will publish the number one book - eventually. Can I hang on to that top spot? There is tough competion there so I'm not sure that will happen. I'm just happy that I made it to the top for a short stint.

My point here is to write various blog entries related, in some way, to my book.