Writing Advice I Learned (and Re-Learned) In 2017

Writing Advice I Learned (and Re-Learned) In 2017

No writer is done learning, and some methods and "tips" we learn evolve over time and take on new dimensions. I did a lot of writing in 2017, not all of it as successfully as I wanted, but throughout the ups and downs I learned a few things (and re-learned even more) that might also help you too. Good luck in 2018!  

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An October Update on Writing, Publishing, and an Abysmal Lack of Cider Donuts

This October hasn’t unfolded how I first envisioned when the leaves began to change colors and the cool air began to skirt through the woods and across the lakes of my small upstate New York town. I haven’t visited any haunted hayrides as I hoped, no haunted houses for that matter either, very little apple picking, and just a handful of cider donuts; a tame and rather muted season all in all. The reason for this is I’ve been busy working on some writing projects, locking myself away most nights to try to cross the last t and dot the last i.

Now that Epic Rites Press released Dead City Jazz for the world to read, my focus shifted to my other poetry collection, We Are All Terminal But This Exit Is Mine, something I’ve been waiting to release for a while. I’ve worked out a deal with a phenomenally talented artist for the cover art and I added a couple of new poems to the mix this month, but after some long and productive conversations with the original publisher, I decided to place the book elsewhere, with the hopes of working with Dark Heart Press again sometime in the future. Thankfully, Bud Smith over at Unknown Press has agreed to tackle the manuscript over the winter and we’ll be working together to put out the best book possible with the collection of poems I have gathered. I’m very excited about the new direction and I believe it’s the best move for all involved right now. More details on that soon.

I also finished work on another novel, one that I think is not just my best work but my best shot at finally acquiring representation with a literary agent. That’s my goal with this one, and I’ve started sending it to agents I’ve met over the last few years. Fingers crossed. This one is a 40s-era mystery, a bit of Humphrey Bogart meets X-Files with a dash of Twin Peaks. It is currently titled The Girl in the Mountain and is a fictional account of a very real and unusual case of a missing college student in Vermont in 1945. Months after she disappears without a trace, two new investigators try to pick up the cold trail, and with the help of local reporters they discover that the number of missing persons, as well as the strange manner in which they disappeared, goes far beyond what anyone expected. I’ll let you know how that goes.

I also updated two other novels this year, a dystopian hardboiled mystery and a more literary ensemble-cast novel in the vein of Cannery Row and The Heart if s Lonely Hunter. Yet another novel I have written but want to revise, a middle-reader for grades 4-6, is on my To Do list for November. My goal for the end of the year is to have all four novels ready to hand to anyone for publication, and I’m almost there.

After that, my writing slate for 2017 is blank. I have some ideas and outlines, but nothing firm. That’s both an exciting and scary feeling, but I’m looking forward to the challenge.     

The Girl in the Mountain, New Interviews, and More

It has been quite a while since my last post, and my absence stems from a plethora of creative and non-creative brush-fires that kept me busy for weeks upon months, but I thought a little update post would do me some good, so here we are.

For starters, I finished the first draft of yet another novel, this one a 1940s-era noir/mystery titled The Girl in the Mountain. It is a fictional account of an actual crime from Vermont in the 1940s that went unsolved…or did it? My take offers a few more conventional and very unconventional possibilities to the real-life missing person case, and I have been calling it a “Humphrey Bogart meets The X-Files, with just a dash of Twin Peaks” type of story. I’m looking forward to starting the second draft before it goes out to a few choice agents. My deepest thanks to my test readers currently reading away!

Also in publishing news, my ninth collection of poetry is slated to appear this summer. Dark Heart Press is hoping to release my book, We Are All Terminal But This Exit is Mine this June. It’s a poetic examination of the hopeful expectations we place on adulthood as a child and the yearning nostalgia we have once he find adulthood isn’t all its cracked up to be, in all its painful and deadly ways.

Atop that I’ll have an interview in the next issue of The Blue Mountain Review, a short story appearing in the next issue of Drunk Monkeys, and a few pieces showing up in anthologies later in the year. So yes, things have been busy, but I hope to make more appearances here at this blog more often now that spring is here. Stay tuned!   

Wait, I Haven't Posted in 2016 Yet?

Time flies when your head is spinning because of how busy you are. Yeah, it’s been quite a while since my last post, but thankfully it’s because I've had too much to do rather than not having anything to post about. It’s been a busy winter so far, with multiple and exciting (to me) projects happening all at once, including:

  • I have a new poetry chapbook in the works with Dark Heart Press, titled We Are All Terminal but This Exit is Mine. There is a tentative release date for this spring that may be pushed back, but I’m excited to work with editor Kevin Ridgeway on this release with his new press based out of Los Angeles. More news on that coming soon.
  • I’m in preliminary talks with a fellow writer to co-edit a new print anthology we want to create collecting personal essays about the daydreams we had while listening to music as kids in the 1980s. It’s early yet to post any more details than that, but it’s going to be a lot of fun.
  • I’m in the home stretch for the first draft of the mystery novel I’m working on, with a working title The Girl in the Mountain, my fifth novel overall, although at least one or two of those will never see the light of day, and for good reason - woof, that was some rough writing in my early 20s. Anyway, I’m about 15K words away from the end, and once it’s done I’ll have a few beta readers give it a go before moving on to the revision stage.
  • I also have a novel waiting for revision that I’m excited to jump back into and get out to agents later this summer. This one is based in Beacon, NY and is about the intersecting lives of five people who moved to town to hide from something, to start over, to figure out what comes next, and then one unsolved murder changes them all.
  • Freelance has been keeping me on my toes, with projects due for Pearson (writing ELL essays and questions for overseas students) and ECS Learning (creating end-of-book tests for classic and award-winning novels taught in grades 4-8), so the next few months will be extra busy, but as every writer working today knows, every penny counts while you’re chasing down an agent for your work, right?

As I attend to all that and more, I’ll try to keep a better variety of weird, fun, informative, and literary posts flowing here in 2016, okay? See you down the road…     


My Top 10 Books of 2015

My Top 10 Books of 2015

It’s time once again to tally up the books I read over the last year and see which ones held up. As usual, I only include books I read for the first time in 2015, but they can have been published anytime. Oddly, it seems I read fewer books in 2015 than in most recent years, by almost double digits, probably because I moved away from NYC and lost all that subway reading time. Oh well, so it goes. Here’s my top 10. Enjoy!  

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NaNoWriMo…or Something Like That

So it’s National Novel Writing Month, and I’m sort of participating. I’m working on my fifth novel and getting about a thousand words a day (average) down, which doesn’t feel like a lot per day but it’s adding up. The “sort of” qualifier comes into play in that this isn’t really anything new for me. NaNoWriMo is every month when you’re working on novels around the year, plus short stories, poems, freelance, and run a lit magazine. So as much as I love everyone (well, writers at least) getting excited about a novel writing month, it’s really just another month for many of us.

But like I said, production levels have been steady. I’m maybe 25K words from the end of this novel so I should be able to finish come December. I’m excited for this one’s potential, and had a revelatory moment while sitting in a mechanic’s lounge waiting on my car about how to better wrap up the ending with more of a surprise connection to how the crime driving the plot started out. Perhaps not thrilling to any reader of this blog, but thrilling to me as I scrambled to jot down all the new details and connections on the back of 23 of the mechanic’s business cards with his dying Bic pen, hoping to get it all down before I forgot anything. So it goes.

By the way, the novel is a mystery based on a real series of disappearances that took place in Vermont in 1945. The working title is The Girl in the Mountain, and I’m really excited about it. More details coming soon.

Begin the Begin...Again: 5 Tips for Revising a Novel

As I begin yet another revision for yet another novel, I’m reminded of a few revision and writing/outlining tips that have always helped me in the past, and that I plan to employ in full force again. Not that I’m some sort of bestselling author passing down the key to the city or anything, but you never know what tip will make that new draft feel like a breeze. I’ve mentioned some other tips before (HERE and HERE) but here are a few of my favorites that I’ve picked up along the way, and maybe one of these will help you too.

1. Write a New Outline Between Drafts

This is something I’ve done off and on for years, but I have used this device much more often since hearing Gabriela Pereira, of, profess its benefits at a Writer’s Digest conference in 2014. Even if you had an outline before you began a first draft, and even if you feel you have a clear idea about what needs to change in draft #2 (or #14, or whatever), you'll absolutely strengthen your understanding of the current state of your book and reinforce your new ideas by writing a completely new outline before you begin the next draft. It may not have to be anything extensive, perhaps a page summarizing the major movements of your tale, but I find this step between your revision notes that you’ve jotted down and the actual book beautifully melds what you want to do with what you’ve done.

And for those who like to work without outlines at all, I certainly understand your sense of adventure, and I’ve written that way in the past as well, but I find a few road signs along the way with enough leeway for exploration and surprises has been the most enjoyable sort of journey.    

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What Lies In Wait, a New Review, and Other Updates!

What Lies In Wait, a New Review, and Other Updates!

I have so many new writing updates that I'll present them to you in lightning-round format. Ready? Let's go!

1. What Lies In Wait will be the title of my upcoming collection of short stories, and I'm aiming for a mid-2015 release. I'm extremely happy that all fifteen stories are now finished, or finished enough for beta readers to finally give them a look. There's still tweaking and proofing to do, but the final lineup is set and it feels like a relief. All fifteen tales share elements of apprehension, fear, and a challenge to face, whether it's something out there in the dark or something within that must be put down. Half are straight-up horror, while others blend mystery, noir, and survival tropes into tales that fall between literary and genre-driven stories. I'm looking forward to feedback, and I'm always open to new test readers! 

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Composing a Novel: Create a Soundtrack to Help You Re-live the Story You Have Yet to Write

Composing a Novel: Create a Soundtrack to Help You Re-live the Story You Have Yet to Write

Whether or not you outline your entire novel before you begin or leave plenty of room for surprises along the way, many writers will reach a point where they struggle with a story. Maybe you wrote yourself into a corner. Maybe you’re having trouble bridging main plot points with smaller scenes of character development. Maybe the characters feel flat. Maybe you want to add an unforeseen subplot but nothing fits just right. Whatever it may be, story speed-bumps are out there waiting for you, but I’ve found a little “game” I like to play that can help flesh out a story idea and possibly turn a handful of outlined scenes into an expansive epic full of action, drama, and tension.

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The Writer, Lost in the Woods

The end of April and beginning of May have been frustratingly slow in terms of writing progress. I wouldn’t call it writer’s block so much as being lost in the woods—figuratively for me, literally for my characters. It's not the type of situation where I don't know what to write, but I keep writing and getting deeper and deeperand what's worsemore lost.

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The Mathematics of Revision

I enjoy re-reading Stephen King’s On Writing every few years. Not only is his personal, humorous, accessible prose in the book a pleasure to read, but as I grow older and more experienced in the writing world, I find so much of his advice to be spot on. But there’s one particular tip in his book that seems to have struck a chord in my writing life. In the long run, the piece of advice he offers is very true…but it took me a few drafts of one of my novels to see the light, and to develop my own equation for coming up with a book that, at least to me, is complete and satisfying.

That piece of advice? Put on your mathematician's hat and get out your pencil, because this is one equation you’ll want to write down and remember, and then revise and make your own. 

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The Hustle Continues: Updates on Life & Writing

So far this new blog is mostly writing advice and a couple of new book announcements. In the hopes of appearing more like an actual human doing actual human things and not a PR spam-bot posing as a writer, here are some real, true, honest "life-things" for your optical intake receptors. Engage!

The new novel (the one fictionalizing a real missing persons case from 1945) was in a major slump over the last week, like a ‘Dostoevsky freezing at the train station I’ll never be able to write again’ slump. Then I finally broke through in the last 48 hours. Mostly because I told myself, “forget about description and action right now, the next 3-4 pages is all dialogue, so just do that and come back later and pick up a Crayola and jazz the scene up.” And that worked. Just stop worrying, thinking, planning, outlining, tinkering, and just write dialogue and revise later. So, like the Kool-Aid Man — KABOOM — breakthrough.

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7 Tips for Revising a Novel

*Previously published at the Writer's Digest blog, There Are No Rules. I blog there once or twice a month. Take a look!*

I spent my December revising a noir/crime novel (I seem to spend most Decembers revising a novel) and I also had a recent discussion with two other writers about the revision process. Both occurrences brought to mind some tips you may find useful. Mind you these are rather simple pieces of advice, and everyone has their own process that works for them, but they might help you feel a little less like you’re swimming upstream during this vital step. I hope they help. Happy revising!

1. Use One File — This is especially true in fiction, but I advise all writers to write the early drafts in one Word file (or whatever software you use). Not only does it help keep a sense of continuity as you progress, but if you make a change that affects an earlier chapter, all you have to do is scroll up. It also makes a key word search much easier without having to open multiple files. I’ve seen novelists use a new Word document per chapter (I did with my first novel way back when) but it can become a confusing jumble of files once you get up to chapter sixty, seventy, eighty…

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Writing a Novel Is Like Being In Love

The last few months have been a beehive of activity, both good and bad, but one thing has seen me through all of these terrible and uplifting events — a new novel I’m writing, which has a very temporary working title "The Beacon Novel."

It tells the interconnected stories of five or six people in Beacon, a small city in the Hudson Valley Region of New York, just a short train ride outside of New York City...

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