Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Reading is for nerds?

Being a writer is weird. Everyone thinks you have a "fake job" and you think, well, sure pays like a fake job, but would a fake job make me want to gouge my eyeballs out with a fountain pen? Do I even have a fountain pen? No, I don't. Or a fountain of any kind. But I do have a pen. Not that I'm going to use it right now - it makes the screen of my laptop all messy, and the posts never upload. That's not what I want to talk about, anyway. I want to talk about why people should spend less time talking about how they don't have time to read and how books are, like, totally lame anyway.

You have time to read. I'm not saying you should. Personally, I find the entire idea repugnant. That's why I close my eyes and cover my ears and scream as loud as I can when I see someone with a book. If it's one of those thick books, I might even throw in a few dry heaves. Get this, though. With e-books and iPads and people reading books on their phones, sometimes it's hard to tell. And everyone is always looking at a phone, so I've been casting a lot of scream spells to keep the words away lately.

Look. It's selfish, alright? You sit there with your phone or little phone-looking thing all quiet and it makes people nervous. Personally, I see you sitting with a book, I don't know what I'll scream. You could be a spy or a suicide bomber or a communist - I don't know! What do I know? Well, I know that the rest of us have the decency to use our phones to do socially responsible things like talk to people on speaker phone - SO EVERYONE KNOWS WHAT YOU'RE TALKING ABOUT. No secrets. Nothing to hide. THAT, I can respect. You want to sit and not share what you're doing with everyone within earshot? That's letting them win! You know who they are. Don't play dumb. BE dumb. People will respect your honesty.

Alright, I'm gonna get real for a second. I know that new technology is fun. I like watching things on the picture box sometimes. I appreciate the fact that the family can sit around the Victrola at night and listen to Sonatas. What I don't get is the 'reading is for squares' mentality. Some of the most badass people who have ever lived have been bibliophiles.

I hear variations on this theme all the time, though. People makes jokes about it. Like they're proud of it. Pshaw! Read a book? LOL! Books are soooooooo boring. People seriously say these things. Sometimes, it's the same people who will spend hours watching men corrupt a game for profit while slowly killing themselves. The same people who watch videos of cats (I love cats - I EVEN LIKE WATCHING VIDEOS OF CATS - I also like to read.)

I don't get it. When I was teaching, I encountered many students who "hated" reading because it was "boring." Most of the time, I was able to get that student stoked on a book. And it wasn't that hard because reading can be super fun. There are so many different kinds of books and magazines and blogs and graffiti ... if you can read, guaranteed there is something you would enjoy. Maybe you'd like to read about history. Or romance. Or intrigue. Or people having sex with dinosaurs. It's all out there!

This just sounds like a writer whining, I know, but it also makes me sad on a very deep level. Books have gotten me through the hardest parts of my life. And books are magic! They can take you back in history, they can transport you to the future, they can make you think, they can make you not think, they can change your perception of the world, make you laugh, make you cry, make you fall in love... If I went around town talking about a new iPhone app that could transport you to any place or any feeling you want, people would be all over that shit. Even if it cost more than a sandwich.

I know some people have their minds made up. It's cool. Honestly, I just wanted to write something before I started working on the ol' novel, and this is what came out. BUT! If you are one of those people who is like "ewww, a book, fucking get that thing away from me before it dorks me up!" then I would encourage you to ask yourself why you feel that way.

Whether you want to accept it or not, a lot of people love the hell out of reading. Some people depend on it. We fight WARS and justify them based on books. So, just, like, think about it. Or wait until this post comes out on Netflix.

Bad jokes aside, I have two daughters. I want them to be who they want to be. I'm not one of those 'you're gonna be a fucking ice skater!' Dads. Both my girls love books, though. If they didn't, it would make me sad. Not because I'm a writer, but because I want their lives to be rich and wonderful. And I don't have enough money to afford a yacht. Or travel. So, yeah, books. But seriously, everyone talks about how important it is to read to their kids and then those kids start kindergarten and lots of parents think: thank GOD we can stop this reading shit now. Because ... reality TV!

If reading is so important for kids (which I think we can agree on), how come it stops being important when you're old enough to work the remote? You think about what you've done. I've got a novel to finish. Assuming I still have both my eyes.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

How WE ALL ruined book reviews.

I'm a writer, so I hear more complaints, attacks, and laments about book reviews than most. I am well aware that some writers pay for reviews. I am VERY cognizant of the fact that writers "trade" reviews because people email me about it all the time. I don't buy reviews, and I don't "trade" them. Authors who want to trade reviews don't want to trade honest reviews (usually), they want you to give their book five stars while snagging five more for yourself. I am also PAINFULLY aware that readers don't trust book reviews anymore - especially if that book was published by an indie writer or a small press. But let's get real here - WE ALL BROKE THE REVIEW SYSTEM! "Five stars" should be reserved for master works and people who have done LOTS of pushups in the mud.

I have written several novels which you can find (along with some short pieces and collections/collaborations) HERE. Take a look if you like. I have a bunch of five star reviews, and I don't deserve ANY of them. Allow me to explain.

I like the things I write. I would even go so far as to say I think I'm pretty good - I have been writing for twenty years. I especially like Joe Café, even though my other novels sell better. So, I think I've written some good books. And by good books, I mean THREE or FOUR star books.

Here's the problem, and I have been guilty of it, too. Let's break it down.

You read a book and, if you're lucky, it resonates with you and you're psyched to tell the world how dope it is. So, you go on Amazon or Goodreads (if you're brave and can understand how the hell it works) and you throw up a five star review. The author, of course, shares the review because we need to EAT. But there's a problem.

I appreciate every review I get, one star or five. OK, I don't care much for the "one star" ones that offer no insight besides "too much profanity," but I'm actually STOKED when I get a three or four star review vs. a five star review. Too many five star reviews looks shady, and I'm not shady. I'm actually annoyingly ethical about this kind of stuff - or I try to be. You want to give a book you like as many stars as possible, and that makes sense. But it's a lie. Here's why.

I've left five stars for books that I now wish I hadn't. Not because I don't think they are good books - I wouldn't have given them glowing reviews if I didn't, but because book reviews are a system based upon perceived consistency. Or they should be. If someone gives Joe Café a five star review, that's really nice. It's also really WRONG. If my novel gets five stars, what are you going to give Steinbeck for East of Eden? FIVE STARS IS AS GOOD AS IT GETS. So, you give me a five star review, how many stars are you going to give The Count of Monte Cristo? Because, while I like every novel I've written, I have never written a novel as good as To Kill a Mockingbird (to name one of many).

Now, it get's tricky because I have also never written a novel anything like To Kill a Mockingbird. But the differences in subject, tone, "social value", etc. don't change the fact that the review system is supposed to judge a book on its merits as a piece of writing. It is supposed to be an honest and objective appraisal of literary merit. Too often, this doesn't happen, even with "official book reviewers."

Here's a good example. Not too long ago, I read and reviewed Sliding Past Vertical by Laurie Boris. It's a great book - one of the best novels I've read recently. Laurie is also a friend of mine. I made it clear that I don't give "special" reviews to people I know. And I don't. It's an awesome book, and I would have loved it just as much if someone else had written it. You should read it. That doesn't change the fact that it's not a five star book. Neither are any of mine. If Laurie and I get five stars, what the hell does Shakespeare deserve? A galaxy of stars?

Look, you finish reading a book and you're psyched on it - you want to tell the world! So, you do. With five big ol' stars. I did Laurie a disservice (it wasn't intentional), I loved the book, but I should have given more thought to how her book exists within the context of literary history. And then there's an even trickier issue - there is a part of all of us that roots for the underdog, so we are more likely to give five stars to a relatively unknown author than an established or long dead and lauded author even though that hurts them, really, making it appear as though they ARE shady review traders. We want to help the 'little guy'. Except...

Except when we want to kneecap a struggling writer. I don't ever want to do that. And, fortunately, it hasn't happened to me (at least not in stars, usually it's smack talk behind my back), but I know excellent writers with books that deserve four stars that get a bunch of one star reviews that are created solely from spite and jealousy. Those are even less helpful than the five star reviews that should have been 3 stars and a detailed review about WHY IT WAS SO GOOD IT DESERVED THREE STARS.

We're all learning. This is a new and exciting time for writing and writers (and readers), but we shouldn't (writers OR readers) complain about the abundance of unwarranted five star reviews or the proliferation of "spite reviews" because we all allowed it to happen. If I get a five star review, I immediately put that bad boy on Facebook, even if I don't want to, because I NEED TO EAT. Part of me wishes it was a four star review because I KNOW I'm not in the same league as Michael Chabon (for example). Someday, maybe, but not right now. He certainly has far MORE reviews than me, but our batting average is similar if you just look at the stars. And that's not fair.

I'm not looking to blame anyone. I am willing to shoulder my share of the blame, as I said (good intentions can lead us in the wrong direction, that's called being human). But I can't sit idly by while people assume that an underdog writer with a lot of five star reviews "just got their friends and family to write reviews or paid for them in 'some way'." Sure, some of my friends and family read my stuff. And some of them leave reviews. And they're probably too generous. Not always. And not many of my friends or family members read what I write, frankly.

Five star reviews should go to books that deserve them. None of my books do. I think an argument could be made that I deserve some four star reviews. I definitely deserve three star reviews. I am not trying to be humble or a martyr. I THINK MY BOOKS ARE PRETTY DAMN GOOD. But "pretty damn good" is not the way I would describe All The Pretty Horses - it would be more along the lines of "absolutely brilliant." And All the Pretty Horses isn't as good as a lot of books I've read. So, I shouldn't even give IT five stars, dig? It's hard, but that means we need to think about it more, not less. And we need to stop pointing fingers unless we point them at the person we see in the mirror as well.

Writers and readers have screwed this up. Go look up the best book you've ever read and look at how many stars it has. I bet you'll be surprised. A bunch of folks thought it was a pile of crap.

I am not trying to convince you NOT to buy my books (please do!), but I AM saying that those books deserve 3 or 4 stars. The problem is that we've broken the system to the point where people see a three star review and assume the book must suck. But if we can't trust the good reviews or the bad reviews, we're stuck. We need HONEST reviews. Writers need them. Readers need them so they can make rational decisions about how to spend their money and time.

Twilight fever is abating, but how many five star reviews did that book get? How many five star reviews of Fifty Shades of Grey are there? I'm not picking on them (not my style, wouldn't be fair). Let's pick on a writer whose work I appreciate: Hugh Howey. I'm all kinds of jealous of that dude sometimes. I'm also happy for his success. I wish him more of it, but look at his reviews. Judging by stars alone, he's as good as Steinbeck. I don't know Hugh personally, but I know enough about him to think that he's A) a good guy and B) not a totally deluded narcissist. Something tells me if you asked him who deserves more stars, he'd go with Steinbeck.

The system is broken, but pointing fingers isn't going to fix it. Thinking about what those stars really mean might actually set us down the path to literary redemption. Three stars means a book is good. Four stars means it's really, really good. I don't know many writers who deserve five star reviews, myself included.

I'm going to say it one more time: I TOTALLY APPRECIATE THE REVIEWS I GET. But ... if you love one of my books, please give it four stars. When I write a five star book, I'll let you know - trust me.

If you want to check out one of my books, go for it. They're here. Like I said, if I thought they sucked, I wouldn't put my name on them. They don't suck. But they aren't as good as Cannery Row

Until we fix this nonsense, it will hurt us all (writers and readers). I'm not giving any more five star reviews unless the book is outstanding. And I would encourage everyone to remember that three stars means the book was good. Four stars means it was great. Five stars means people will still be talking about it in 200 years.

We've gotten to this weird place where you look at any given book (written recently) and you see a ton of five star reviews, a few four, some one star reviews, and VERY FEW IN THE MIDDLE. A good book should have a lot of three star reviews with some enthusiastic five star reviews and a handful of "this book didn't suit MY tastes, so it's garbage" one star reviews. It should have some four and two star reviews, too. There's a lot of grey in between the effusive five star salute and the one-fingered one star dismissal. Until we get this straight, book reviews will continue to be meaningless.

This has been your public service rant for the day. Now, I'm going to work on the third Matt Stark novel and hope it's good enough to get a BUNCH of four star reviews!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

EVERYTHING I Write Is Fiction!

When people ask what I write, the answer is easy. I write fiction. Bam. Done. I got an email this morning from someone who is calling me out for no longer being a 'fiction only' writer because I wrote a book about teaching kids to fish. It was a friendly kind of thing. I'm not mad. I'm going to address it though. Mostly because I think it's interesting. First, a bit of background.

I taught writing workshops for at-risk teens for years. We had very few rules. I'm not big on rules. The rules were basically:

1. Be cool. Be supportive. Don't write about anyone in this workshop except me (if you dare).

2. Do not write about guns or violence or abuse unless you need someone to help - I'm a mandated reporter, and I take it very seriously.

3. EVERYTHING YOU WRITE IS FICTION! It doesn't matter if it's about your Grandma's birthday party that happened yesterday. FICTION!

The third rule was very important - for my students, as it is important for me every day of my life. Here's how I feel about it. Whether my writing is 'fictional' or not is my business. So, rather than beat around the bush and hand out wishy-washy answers like: "Oh, I write all kinds of stuff," everything I write is fiction. Fishing book included.

So, there's that. When I was working with kids, I wanted them to be able to write without worrying about whether anyone was trying to figure out "what was true." It was a form of protection and a grab at privacy for everyone. And it worked really well.

But let's get a little more obtuse. I don't believe there is any such thing as non-fiction. Not really. Now, I'm not an idiot. I get that there is a section in your bookstore called nonfiction. But, since I'm a writer, allow me to submit the following. I can tell a 'true story' and make it untrue. And I can make up a story that is pretty damn true. As a writer, I use tone, language, imagery, and many other cool tricks to tell my stories the way I want to tell them. But, in telling the story my way, I am presenting it in a way that is more than 'just facts'. I am manipulating you. And 'just facts' aren't nonfiction either because there is always more to the story than, 'just the facts', dig?

Check this out. My daughter just started kindergarten. Which of these is true? (Meaning NONfiction.)

My daughter sat as the teacher smiled her greetings, twitching in her seat, eyes bright. There was a soft light falling through the faded drawings in the window.

My daughter looked small in the plastic chair, listening to her new teacher, hands clasped tightly. A buzz from somewhere ... an air conditioner, fan ... the sound of hornets swarming. The clock's tick was a metronomic hypnosis.

My daughter sat, wide-eyed, as her teacher explained the intricacies of finger painting. She watched the other children, painted tattoos covering their forearms, picturing the rainbows that would go down the drain come bath time.

The lights were bright, glinting off the damp forehead of the woman who would remain after the parents left. My daughter looked at me, but it was like she was looking through me and into a future still shrouded in mystery.

My daughter listened to her kindergarten teacher speak.

All of those things are fictional. Even the last one. I don't know for sure if she was listening, and, even if she was, the mere fact that she was listening doesn't give us any idea about how she was receiving the information. In my mind, that is not nonfiction. That's a police report. The truth means the whole picture, and we never get the whole picture. Even when we think we do, our picture is different than all the other ones because we are different from every other human we interact with. Which means the other examples aren't nonfiction either because they are MY interpretation of what went down (or didn't). My PRESENTATION. And the anxiety or wonder or whatever you took from it was a conspiracy between me (writer) and you (reader) to create an idea of how things really went down. Which we can't DO because you can interpret the examples in many ways. I influence your interpretation with my mad writing skills, and you are free to misinterpret, read through the lens of your OWN experiences, or misread what I wrote completely and think I'm talking about aluminum siding. Nonfiction? Hardly.

Jon Krakauer is one of my favorite writers. He writes non-fiction. Right? I've read all his stuff. Most recently, I read his account of the life and death of Pat Tillman, Where Men Win Glory. It's a fantastic book. I don't believe it should be considered nonfiction, however. To tell the nonfictional account of Pat Tillman's life, you'd have to write something like this:

Pat Tillman was a pretty good guy. He was a pro football player who went to war. He died. 

And THAT would not be 'nonfiction' because there is a HELL of a lot more to the story. But Krakauer's book isn't nonfiction if you want to get picky. Krakauer is a fantastic writer and his books include commentaries, philosophies, and presentations that paint beautiful pictures of real events. He is writing using his beliefs, ideologies, SKILL, etc. The Tillman story has been told many times by lots of different people. There are commonalities, but the stories are not the same. They are accounts of "true" events that are filtered through the lenses of flawed humans (as we all are). And sometimes, real events are used as part of an agenda. Like how the government LIED in their 'nonfiction' account of Tillman's death. Everyone writes/speaks with some kind of agenda. Therefore, their stories cannot be 'true' in the sense that simple people like to think of them as 'true'...

Photographs and paintings are not the same. I would argue that, in the hands of a writer - especially a really good writer - there is no such thing as nonfiction. Fiction can even be MORE TRUE than nonfiction for these same reasons. If we are not bound by this elusive concept of 'truth', we are free to flavor our writing so it is closer to something true or, if not true, at least honest. We do this by adding a dash of emotion, a phrase turned carefully so it can be read several ways ... writers have lots of tricks. Kind of makes you wonder what 'true' and 'honest' even mean, let alone 'fiction' and 'nonfiction'.

So, I am still a fiction writer. And I always will be. Everything I write is fiction. Including this post.

You should read the Krakauer book. It's fantastic. Better than mine. Mine's cheaper though.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Yes, we know we suck.

I suck at social media. I suck at being social period, so that shouldn't surprise me. I'm a writer, and that means I am broke. I try not to SPAM too much, I know that's annoying. And I try to provide as much free entertainment (blogs, music, stories, etc) as I can to make up for the spammage.
I'm a word guy. I don't get numbers, engines, facebooks ... I literally just the other day realized that it shows you when there are updates in the groups on the left (always wondered what those numbers were).
I have a request. If you enjoy my blog (, please follow it. A lot of people read it, but only 60 actually follow it. If you enjoy my work, please buy a book. If you've read one, please review it, even if you hated it. It helps and that's my income. I have given away thousands of books. Seriously.
Bear with me for one more second. I know a lot of writers on and offline. Some are not as successful as I am (woah, that's rough). Many are more successful. That's irrelevant. I want to speak to the stupid, selfish (seeming) things we do on this internet machine.
Being a writer is a weird gig. Akin to being in a band when you're starting out. You NEED money, but the 5 people who will actually show up and say your name at the door want to be on the guest list and you put them on it because they CAME. But then you make no money. We're dealing with a larger scope and different arena here, but the game is the same.
You would never ask the guy at Starbucks for a free coffee. You tell everyone you know about the great new restaurant they HAVE to try. Writers live and die by word of mouth and loyalty and reviews and people who understand that mere benevolence doesn't keep the gas on.
Even amongst OURSELVES, we are disgusted by the incessant marketing that all of us (some go WAY too far) have to do. I swear, when I am not WAY below the poverty line, I will shut the hell up. Until then, I will try to provide a lot of entertainment for free. I do a weekly column that some folks like. I post a lot of stories. There are several albums online, if you like music. They're free. And they took/take time.
It's not just writers. Working in the arts (that made me feel funny) is hard. If you like to read good stuff, you need to forgive writers their foibles and support the ones you like. Same with musicians, film makers, crafters, etc.
I appreciate the support I get, and the help (sharing stories, telling friends, etc) more than I can ever express, but I also need to feed my girls. It's a hard balance. I don't want to spam FB or twitter, but I have to from time to time and I REALLY try and make up for it by providing at least a few pieces for free every week. When I'm selling mad books, I'll PAY for proper ads, I promise.
I just thought it would be beneficial to everyone if someone finally said this. You know a painter? They deal with the same stuff. 'Do a quick sketch of my kid?' Of course! They'll do it. And I might ask. I'd probably buy something too, though or slip 'em a fiver. I pay for the TV shows I watch on Hulu by watching the same commercial over and over. I pay for what I eat, wear, and enjoy in my free time because everyone needs to make a living.
Please forgive those of us who take to social media brandishing wares. Please appreciate that a lot of us try to make up for it in other ways. Community can be defined many ways, but support your community whatever it is! Leave a comment on the blogs you read. Reach out to artists you respect, they will probably be stoked. Go to the art show that's a 'long drive' away. Take the time to look at the picture, story, page instead of blindly clicking 'like'.
I'm not tech savvy. I'm stumbling through the internet trying to make friends, make no enemies, tell some stories, and also sell some books. There are a lot of folks like me and they don't all write. The same rules apply. If you love something, you need to support it or it will die. You love your kids? Feed em. Water your plants. Change your oil. And support the photographers /artists /writers /bookstores /bands /sculptors, etc. who enrich your life so they can keep doing it.
This has been a public service announcement. Feel free to share it - I think it's important.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Spring is a Terrible Time to Die


I am a biker. When I ride my motorcycle, I wear a full-face helmet, kevlar pants, an armored jacket, armored gloves, giant boots, and a smile. I have taken safety classes. I have ridden for a long time. I still practice all the time, too. And I help fellow motorists and bikers when they need it. That's how I was brought up. To look out for everyone's safety and well-being.

I know that some people have negative feelings about bikers, so I wanted to share this. There are three pictures here. One is a picture of me and my girls. That guy with the cute little girls? He’s a biker that wants to hug his girls forever.

The next picture is the back of my car. You wouldn’t BELIEVE how many comments my wife gets on the car. People all over town know our car. Which means they’ve read the bumper. Cyclists appreciate it. Bikers appreciate it. It cost almost nothing and it makes people aware.

The third picture is from a ride several years ago with three of my favorite men and my PPMC brothers: Mark Builder, Tom Schmitz, and Darin Moore – I still see Mark and Tom, but I will never again get to give Darin a hug. He was killed by a careless driver. He left a wife and children behind. He was a good man and one of the best riders I’ve had the pleasure to have known. I miss him.

Sure, there are bikers who do dangerous things. I don’t speak for them. I speak for us. For the dads (and moms) and responsible riders who just want to ride a MC and not die. We work hard and we wear all our gear even if it’s hot.

Most drivers do not use turn signals. Many drivers text while they drive. And you gotta remember, killing a biker would ruin your life. I’d hope. But your inattention could kill a kid, it could put someone in traction, it could paralyze someone. IT COULD KILL YOU.

I would like to encourage everyone to think about putting something like I did on their bumpers. I know people like their cars, but if I make one driver think a little more, I consider the day a success. Screw the appearance of my car.

I put the stickers on when Darin was killed. I will leave them on there because there are motorcycles, children, old folks, cats, deer and a million other things on the road. Daily, I see people following five feet off the bumper in front of them going 80 mph. That’s an accident waiting to happen. I see people changing lanes and speeding without signaling. I see people who have yet to have their heart broken by what an inattentive rider/driver can do.

I try to do my part to make things safe for ALL drivers/riders/pedestrians. You may not know a biker. Maybe you do. Either way, I’d appreciate it if you shared this. In a car, it’s easy to forget the fact that you’re propelling a HUGE chunk of metal at extreme speeds. It can easily become a deadly weapon.

I ride with bikers who don’t want to hurt a soul. I ride with bikers who just want to pursue a passion safely and return home to hug their loved ones. I know this is long, but life should be long, too. I want to ride with my brothers for a long, long time. And I want to be able to take my girls to the pool, too. And I don't want to even think about the pain and hardship my wife would experience if I died.

If we all work together, imagine how many tragedies could be prevented? You’ll be seeing more bikers out of the road now. Please, PLEASE see them. They deserve to live, and you deserve to live your life without aching guilt from a silly moment of apathy or inattention.

Sure, I ride with a club. But there's another club. If you have a vehicle with wheels, you are in the club. The ‘let’s be decent and respectful so no one gets hurt’ club. It’s a good club. I’m proud to be a part of it.

Feel free to share this, plagiarize it, etc. I'm a writer, and I'm very protective of my words, but I'm more protective of my brothers and sisters - on bikes, in cars, or just walking down the street.

If you see this sticker on a bike, it means you've found a friend. THAT is the basis of the PPMC Charter.

Monday, March 31, 2014

'My Writing Process' - BLOG TOUR 2014! - brought to you by Apple(s)

My excellent friend Yvonne Hertzberger (also a brilliant writer) invited me to do this 'blog tour' thing. Naturally, I assumed it was a cheap come on and informed her that I am a happily married man. Then, I thought she was talking about climbing inside the internet. Then, I thought about the movie 'Innerspace'. Then, I thought, “that was a rad movie, I should watch it!” Then, I remembered I had to answer these questions (Thanks Yvonne!!!) So, I’m answering these questions, and then I’m passing the mic to some awesome writer type folks. Then, I’m going to eat lunch. And I might watch 'Innerspace'. Oh no he didn’t! Oh, yes, yes, I did. Martin Short, baby! (I haven’t forgotten, amigo.)

Yvonne is awesome, check her out. Here’s her post: KAPOW! - and now we rock the roll. Take a shot of whiskey and slap your dog, 'cause these questions are so pointed you might end up blind. 

What am I working on?

I work on multiple projects at the same time. I didn’t do this until I started writing longer fiction. I need a break from novels … they’re long, you know? When I used to write stories exclusively, I generally worked on one until it was done. I wrote some songs during the process, but that’s much different - I'm always writing some shitty song.

Now, when I’m working on a novel, I need to write short pieces. I write a lot of flash on my blog. I still write music. So, the answer is a bit ambiguous. I’m WORKING on the third installment of the Matt Stark series (which will focus on Jo). I’m also writing stories. Some articles. I might even write a song or two. A play? I won’t write a play. I can almost guarantee it. (Unless there's money involved, in which case I will write a play about anything you want. Anything...)

How does my work differ from other of its genre?

This assumes a few things that I am uncomfortable with. I don’t think in terms of genre unless the book is REALLY formulaic. Generally, I consider good books to be good books that may be romantic, adventurous, murder-y, sad, memoir-esque … you get the idea.

But lots of other people think genre is important, and I guess my longer work is mostly “crime fiction” or some nonsense. My feeling is, if the characters are good, the genre is life. Still sounds pretentious. Ironically, I feel it is just the opposite. Let the readers apply 'genre' stickers!

Why do I write what I do?

I write about the things that interest/confuse/befuddle me. I write about the parts of life that don’t make much sense. I get pegged as a writer of “dark fiction” quite a bit, but I don’t quite see it like that. I write about things that really happen in real life. I tend to lean towards dark because the happy, shiny things aren’t nearly as interesting.

How does your writing process work?

I either come up with an idea, start writing it in my head, and then eventually get it down on paper or I just sit down and see what comes out. Usually, the latter. Novels involve more puzzling out, but most of my short stories come from just sitting down and deciding to write a short story. I am a pantser for sure. I don’t think I’d enjoy writing nearly as much if I knew where the journey was headed.

Here’s those awesome writer types I mentioned. They will be answering the above Q’s via their blogs, graffiti, scrawled notes or in any other way they choose on the 7th. Or they won’t. And we will forgive them because we love them.

Jo-Anne Teal

Jo-Anne began writing fiction about three years ago.  She is particularly interested in telling stories of the hidden, the hurt, the silent and the unheard.  Concentrating on flash fiction as she began to develop her writing voice, she now writes short stories and is planning her first novel.

Jo-Anne lives in Vancouver, British Columbia where she happily pursues the writerly stereotype of spending too much time in coffeeshops.

Ed Drury

Ed Drury is a multi-instrumentalist, composer, teacher, instrument maker and author. He combines his experience with classical music and his love for traditional music forms by composing music inspired by his world travels.

Ed lives in Portland Oregon where he teaches, performs, writes and records. He has written and published five books. Two non-fiction books on music and a trilogy of science/eco/fantasy books called the Whale Whisperers Saga.

Teresa Kennedy

Teresa Kennedy is the Editor in Chief of Village Green Press, LLC and the author of more than 30 published books. She has won a Southwest authors award, and the French Pen Faulkner award for her novel, Baby Todd and The Rattlesnake Stradivarius.

Village Green Press LLC offers a full range of services for authors looking to self-publish and those pursuing more traditional outlets.

Big thanks to Apples for being affordable and nutritious. And for making this blog tour possible. 

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

‘The need for speed – pacing in novels vs short stories’

Morgen Bailey is a friend of mine. She is also a passionate connoisseur of the written word. (And she has a lovely accent.) She was kind enough to share this guest post. Check her out - make sure you spell 'Morgen' with an 'e' or you will find a passionate connoisseur of something MUCH different. :)

Morgen has the energy of ten people, and she is a great mentor for aspiring writers. I don't think she ever sleeps, but she drinks tea, not blood. Without any further blathering...

There are three components to most stories: character, setting (location) and plot. The most important is the character because if you have a character the reader cares nothing for, you can have the best plot but it falls flat because the reader isn’t interested in what happens to your protagonist. If they do, then your next job is to make your plot engaging.

Stories (of any length) are usually made up of a mixture of dialogue and description. Dialogue usually speeds up the story whereas description, especially if a chunk of it, slows it down.

The genre you’re writing can also determine how you want to write. A fast-paced thriller will automatically need shorter, sharper sentences than a slow-burning historical saga.

I cover ‘Direct vs indirect action’ on my page where I say, “Try and make your writing as direct as you can. What do I mean by that? Have the character (Ted) throw the ball rather than say “The ball was thrown by Ted”. Also instead of saying ‘Ted saw the train speeding towards the car’, having the train speeding towards the car means you’re closer to the action. Your readers will appreciate it as your writing should already have them feeling like they're Ted.

You also don’t want to make your chapters too long. I read (and enjoyed) Graham Hurley’s debut novel, Nocturne, but at three 100-page chapters, it felt more disjointed because I wasn’t stopping at a natural break – I rarely read novels in one sitting. This is possibly one aspect of why James Patterson novels are so popular; because he has very short chapters. One of my favourite books is his / Michael Ledwidge’s ‘Step On A Crack’, a fast-paced heist thriller.

I’ve titled this article ‘pacing in novels vs short stories’ because they do differ. While you can elaborate in novels, every word really does have to count in short stories. You don’t have the space to go into depth, to have long passages of description, however beautiful it might be. Of course, your readers will want different things from your writing; I glaze over detailed descriptions whereas one of my writing group poets loves them. I love reading and writing flash fiction so they tend to be short and snappy.

Of course the lack of quantity doesn’t mean you can skimp on the quality. Your reader still wants to be entertained, learn something new, feel for your characters but they also want there to be a risk, a dilemma. Having your character sitting around drinking cups of tea may be company for them, it serves little purpose, unless there’s a wrecking ball looming over their veranda and they’re sipping Earl Grey, blissfully unaware. To ensure your narrative drive, every scene has to have a reason for being there, your writing has to grip the reader, want them to know what happens next, that the characters they’ve grown to care for are going to be OK.

Readers should remember your book for all the right reasons and finish the last page feeling happy, drained – both is the sign of good writing – if that’s how you feel after you’ve written it, then it’s definitely a job well done.

What’s the ‘fastest’ story you’ve read? Do you have any of your own tips for speeding up a read, while not losing enjoyment?

Morgen Bailey

Based in Northamptonshire, England, Morgen Bailey (“Morgen with an E”) is a prolific blogger, podcaster, editor / critiquer, Chair of NWG (which runs the annual H.E. Bates Short Story Competition), Head Judge for the NLG Flash Fiction Competition and creative writing tutor for her local council. She is also a freelance author of numerous ‘dark and light’ short stories, novels, articles, and very occasional dabbler of poetry. Like her, her blog,, is consumed by all things literary. She is also active on Twitter, Facebook along with many others (listed on her blog’s Contact page).
She also recently created five online writing groups and an interview-only blog. Her debut novel is the chick lit eBook The Serial Dater’s Shopping List and she has six others (mostly crime) in the works. She also has several short story collections and writer’s block workbooks available on and