Dog Ear
Rejection (DOG EAR) PDF Print E-mail
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Thursday, 21 June 2012 16:45

This was how my story started...

The shotgun trembled in Hector’s grip, his crucifix tinkling across its twin barrels.

He was frightened – dry-mouthed, ass-puckered frightened – more frightened than when Mr. Sethman had come to their town meeting with his damned proposition. But this current fear wasn’t diluted by misgivings and second-thoughts. This fear was final.

And this was how the rejection started...

Choosing which stories to accept has been a difficult decision, and we regret that we won't be taking it for the collection. It was a very creative semi-western, semi-gothic, all-wonderfully-bonkers-and-evocative piece, and we hope that it finds a home elsewhere.

Ugh. It's enough to grip my crucifix. Or to put my shotgun in my mouth.

I'd been following this collective series for some time (even reviewing them someplace on this site). I'd had this plan, once I got the tempo, pace and length of their stories figured, to submit a nicely wicked piece, something they would be sure to love. Once their new submission notices went up, I plotted my short story (it had to do with trains - I know my trains) and wrote it out. Cleaned it, polished it, groomed it. Got it all ready.

See, it isn't about the money. It's about writing something that people will notice, and in the authors' blurb, they'd mention my books and my site. And that could be a way to get that invaluable writer's cred, the notice that leads to more notice, and soon I'm churning out wretched best sellers, just like those other goons.

But my plans didn't factor in getting rejected.

I'm not really sure why. I might have tried too hard and overwrote. I might have been too technical. I might have caught them on a bad day. Whatever. But now I've got this story that I can't use anywhere else, a very tight tale of a man who doesn't wish to send his daughter on a one way trip to Hell.

But we're writers. We gotta come off that mat, again and again. We gotta keep taking those low punches, even when undeserving twits get the agents, the book deals, and the placement on the NYTBS.  I saw one of these knobs at a show I boothed. He was wearing leather pants, for Christ sakes. And I gotta schlock books around on a cart while he breezes in and sells?

Yes, that wonderful odor of rejection.

If you are reading this column, you are probably a writer. You know the feeling of getting that SASE back, of all the love and effort that goes into your novel, only to have it languish in a lousy word file (and not between covers, as it should). I know about it. And nobody else will tell you because nobody else knows how it feels. But I know. Your book is great. It deserves a place in the library stacks. It does. And you'll get it there.

Now spit that bloody water back into the bucket, climb off your stool, and get back into the ring.


Last Updated on Thursday, 21 June 2012 17:22
The man with the can (DOG EAR) PDF Print E-mail
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Thursday, 14 June 2012 19:26


"If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it's not going to be fired, it shouldn't be hanging there."

-Anton Chekhov

I don’t know who this old black man is. Usually I see him on days I bike in, over on the other side of Lake Destiny Road, going south to my north.

He’s always riding a ratty little bike, so non-descript I can’t really remember what it is – maybe one of those banana-bikes popular twenty years ago, maybe a heavily-used Walmart coaster.

He’s got that old-man’s face: black, shopworn, seen-it-all. The writer in me would like to think he saw events of the Civil Rights era but he’s not quite that old. Maybe interesting stories all the same, like how the interstate split his black township in two like a concrete battle-axe and didn’t even give it a ramp.

The thing is, he’s always carrying a gas can, one of those plastic red numbers. Presumably he’s topping it off at the nearby 7-11, then riding home.

There are only two houses down the road he rides. Eatonville is the next likely destination but that’s like two miles away, quite a haul on an un-oiled, rusting bike.

Which leads me to ask – why is he getting this gasoline every morning? Why not just drive over? If it’s for a lawnmower, part of a service he works for, wouldn’t it be easier for someone with a car to get it? After all, getting gas in a car involves just pulling in. Getting it on a bike is a muggy long ride with a gallon sloshing around atop your handlebars.

There is a story there.

I saw this guy (again) while riding in the other day, pondering what I’d write about. And here it was – the idea of depth-in-scene, the hidden story. This element, in passing, raises a touch of curiosity in the reader. If my narrative mentions the writer-bicycling yuppie (with his safety gear and anality about the rules of the road) spotting the broken down black man inexplicably riding along in a symbolic opposite direction every morning with a gallon of gas, the reader’s interest will be piqued. Will the yuppie have some sort of contact with this man, and learn the depth of local history, or perhaps the life-lesson of acceptance?

Or maybe it will lead to some web of crime, a clue to the activities of an aging yet bitter militant, too poor to afford a car yet able to construct dreadful gasoline bombs which he will plant about town? A race against time?

Or perhaps this is a foil, to show the yuppie’s own shortcomings. How a casual let-it-be old man magnifies the yuppie’s own fruitless drive, his rules-following and pedal-pedal-pedal haste?

It could be that this is just a way to make a statement about the world, how in the shadow of the humming freeway, a marginalized black man rides past with a single gallon of gasoline.

It could be just a red herring, an odd moment that adds quirkiness to a scene, a playful artist trick.

The writer needs to decide how (and even if) this snapshot fits the story, that it serves a purpose (even if it is ironically a non-purpose). It needs to fit the mood and the story. It needs to tell us something, show us something. “Show, don’t tell” as the rule goes – and the showing doesn’t need to be clear. It just needs to be interesting, observant, relevant and picturesque. It will make a 2-D story 3-D.

As a writer, you need to see these things in your life and use them.

It is Chekhov’s Gun, and it needs to be fired, one way or another.


Last Updated on Thursday, 14 June 2012 19:39
Creativity (DOG EAR) PDF Print E-mail
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Thursday, 07 June 2012 07:23

Creativity. Those who don’t have it (who talk on cellphones or watch TV in the evenings) don’t get it. But we, the people who walk silently with eyes on the invisible or who do more than doodle during tedious office meetings, we have it. Creativity.

An example was yesterday – slow day at work with an unexpected extension we didn’t need. Not much to do. Fine. But for fun, I’ve been working on a computer game at home, an excel takeoff of “Time Tripper”, a time-travel/combat game from 1980 that I loved to play. The game itself was clever (I’m creative enough to recognize creativity outside my own skull) and there were two areas, the past and the future. The past was loaded with all sorts of interesting battles to intercede in – Zama, Troy, Shiloh, a cave-man buffalo hunt. Really fun. And the future? It was like suddenly they ran out of ideas and had to just get it done before COB. Vampires. Space troopers. Nothing special – no concept that history continued in a unified path. My version, I decided on the bike ride in, would have this. I would write my own future.

Think of the fun of it - outlining the way the world will continue.

In the office shower, my creativity churned out some ground rules…

1)      The future had to be limited – I only had 36 scenarios. So I decided global warming was going to happen and be the death of us.

2)      The future had to be low tech – I figure that the real future will be computer controlled weapons, self-guided gyrojet rounds and such, that will make combat pretty deadly. “A Motie fired, a Motie died” sort of thing. So for game-purposes, in fifty years, things will start falling apart. Simpler technologies. Back to bows. Back to swords.

With this, images came to my head. While toweling off, I considered the “Second American Civil War” – no, strike that, the “Uncivil War”, where all our political/religious outlooks finally result in a tearing apart of this nation, and a replacement with something very bad. As I locked my locker, I visualized a cocaine-using American Pope ground-detonating our entire nuclear stocks to bring about the Armageddon fundamentalists dream of. Riding to my floor on the elevator, I saw the other end of time, with greenhousing making the equators uninhabitable, the blossoming of Siberia and the final Kingdom of Man, a Neo-Mongol city on a flat plain and sluggish river. Of sword-thrust towers and limp pendants. Of bold horsemen, once dashing and barbaric themselves, now decadent and flabby. Come the final wave of outriding hordes. Come the final fall…

I opened up a spreadsheet and started filling out these ideas, thirty-six rows for the thirty-six mini-games. As I did, more and more ideas came, interesting ways to combine my existing rules with additions that would make each game a little different and unique. At lunch, I transferred the entire thing to my netbook and sat outside, banging out the ideas that seemed to burst from my head. A nanotech disaster. The fall of Africa. Llama-riders. Wow.

That’s creativity. Embrace it. Capture it.

When it comes to writing, we need to recognize that these moments don’t come often and we must be prepared for it. Keep a notebook handy – one never knows when an idea, a phrase, a concept will pop into one’s head. Once, a single word – DOWNSHAFTING – opened up the image of a frightening future corporate world. Suddenly it was just there. I jotted it down. That night I started to write Oath to Carthage.

Recognize the moments when they come. Often our subconscious works while we are asleep. I’ve woken to find a beautiful word, a plot twist, a character (once, a delightful murder) hanging in my thoughts like smoke. If you wait to take your shower, to have breakfast, to get your clothing, to deal with the day’s minutia, you’ll lose it. Write it down, then and there.

Archimedes knew the moment when he stepped into his bath and realized he’d solved an incalculable method of determining volume. So excited was he that he ran naked down the streets of Syracuse, screaming “Eureka!” I’m not saying you should do that. But when creativity strikes, recognize it, note it, capture it.

Savor the blessing.


Last Updated on Monday, 11 June 2012 18:40
Gotcha! (DOG EAR) PDF Print E-mail
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Thursday, 31 May 2012 17:10

You know the movie - the cute babysitter hears a noise. She investigates. Opeeeeennnsss the dooooooor.... MEOW! Out runs... the cat. She and the audience breath a sigh or relief and then the killer rams an ice pick into her.

Surprises, shock, and startlement go with the media of movies - very easy to do. But it's possible to pull this off in writing - if one really crafts it well. My favorite shock comes from the book Mr American by George MacDonald Fraser, where the title character (once a desperado, now a English squire) has just been threatened by Kid Curry (for blackmail). Fraser explains that Curry was last seen boarding a London-bound train, threatening to return. At best, that means two days there and back. But that night, Franklin awakens and studies a white shape in a distant hedge from his bedroom window...

There it was again! something had definitely moved in the distant gap. Mr Franklin felt elation running though him as he slid away from the window, working his numbed right arm, picked up the Remington from the side-table, and slipped it into his waistband. He padded across the room in his stockinged feet, softly opened the door, and stepped on to the landing. The large windows of the upper floor were throwing moonlight across the landing and the empty, silent hall below as he turned towards the stairs and suddenly shrieked aloud for there not fifteen feet off and halfway up the stairs was Curry with his eyes glaring wildly in the moonlight and his teeth bared in a ghastly grin as his hand streaked out from beneath his coat and the Colt was whirling up to cover Mr Franklin while he gaped flat-footed with his yell echoing around him and his numbed right hand twitching feebly at his Remington until instinct sent him diving desperately sideways drawing left-handed and the thunderous boom-boom-boom of revolver-fire reverberated through the house.

Masterful! I remember when I read that, how I dropped the book in shock (for there are several pages of domestic quiet that leads up to the shocking invasion). I've always remembered that as a good lesson in craft.

I've tried it myself, in my coming book Indigo, where a brace of crows are returning home to a coming world-ending crow-on-crow battle after a failed diplomatic mission, passing through broken bands of rain...

            Precipitation began to spackle against their wings, sleeting past to mist across the grid. The earthbones shimmered. In concert, the eyes of the multitudinous shells sparkled into being. As the spray grew to rain, the three crows beat at quicker tempo, throwing water clear with every downthrust. Tuft curled around a cold column of downpour, catching sight of the illuminated towers, correcting true. The sky stood in vertical streaks of gray, its effluence washing the world of its sins a final time, the horizon so close that the foreign crows were suddenly tight around them.

What do you think?


Last Updated on Monday, 11 June 2012 18:40

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