Thursday, October 31, 2013

My Writing: The Early Years

Hello, and welcome to the first edition of My Writing: The Early Years.

Let's go WAY back, to the time where there was no internet. Or, at least to a time where the internet didn't exist as it does today.

Back in the mid to late 80s, without boring anyone with a history lesson, the closest equivalent to the internet you could find were these local bulletin board systems, or BBSs, where you could dial in with a phone modem and talk to other people who also dialed in. Most times "talking" involved posting messages on what people today might know as a message forum. There were a few BBSs out there where you could do real-time chat, play multiplayer games, etc, but those were few and far between and didn't really explode onto the scene until the early 90s maybe, not long before the world wide web came and blew all that away.

On one particular BBS called DragNet (named after the popular TV show), I used to post my own stories, because it was the only forum I knew for the brain farts that passed as my writing, and the other users seemed to enjoy them.

(It didn't dawn on me then that I could actually try to publish anything in magazines, although I did enter two writing contests when I was younger. But I digress.)

I posted a good number of stories over the years I spent on there, but out of all those, only ONE survived in my own files. The rest, presumably, still exist on the ancient Apple computer that hosted DragNet BBS. I'm still waiting for the System Operator from that time to fire up that old Apple, but I think it might involve more hamsters and wheels than he can get his hands on without involving a builder's permit or animal control.

Anyway, without further ado, here it is, the only surviving piece of writing from the mid to late 80s. It's also my first, last, and only radio script.

And to any publishers or agents who might be peeking into my blog (** if only **), please don't judge me on this.




Jim Cronan:     This is Jim Cronan, speaking to you live from the planet of Aggraria where the new season of MegaGolf is about to begin. For those of you who are interested in seeing this spectacular event live, here are the directions. Note that these directions are for the people of the planet of Aggraria. Take Canal 61 north to Falch’s Canal. Take Falch’s Canal east for about a mile. Don’t worry, there’ll be signs on the way. Please, if you happen to hit any, inform someone of this so that they can promptly put up another one. The name of the field is Somethingorother Field. Well, not all of the contestants are here yet, so we’ll take a commercial break here.

Commercial Announcer:     Introducing the latest and greatest product from Dr. Ford GWIIInc.: the Cheese-Powered Lawnmower! Yes, folks, no more wasting your money on lots of gasoline to waste on those other gas-guzzling mowers. Now just one small block of cheese will power our lawnmower nicely and it will not run out of energy until the job is done! This is the answer to all you people out there who may have tons of left-over cheese from your parties because no one likes it. And now you know what to do with that spoilt cheese – our lawnmowers run even better on it. Now, you must be saying to yourself, this must cost a fortune. Wrong! This amazing machine costs only 200 Aggrarian dollars, or $199.95 in American money! That’s it! And all you hafta do is pick up the phone and order today. The number is 111-123-1111-11111-11, or 111-123-1111-12 in the Exceptia area. Or write to our company address: Dr. Ford’s GWIIInc., 115 Somethingorother Lane, Jordan City, Golqua, 1231231.

Jim Cronan:     Well, we’re back and it seems that the four contestants are now entirely here. Let’s go on location with Doug Phlegm.

Doug Phlegm:     This is Doug Phlegm here on the shoreline of Somethingorother’s Field, where the players are practicing for the game. Let’s go have a talk with them.

F/X:                    Sounds of people grunting and loud squishing sounds.

Doug Phlegm:     Uh, excuse me, Sir. May I ask you your name?

Uly Throttle:     Uly Throttle, Sir. I suggest you step back or I may accidentally hit you with my mallet.

Doug Phlegm:     Of course. Well, what do you think your chances of winning are, Mr. Throttle?

Uly Throttle:     Are you kidding? No one has ever survived after playing me in a game of MegaGolf. I used to play my friend when I was a young lad, and let me tell you that I was a very lonely child, Sir.

Doug Phlegm:     Uh, yeah, well you’re gonna have quick a match playing the Stick...

Uly Throttle:     That wimp?! You look at my name and that’ll tell you what I’ll do when I catch him!

Doug Phlegm:     Yes, well, we’ll go have a talk with the next player, who just happens to be that brutal, totally unpredictable MegaGolf player, Tom “The Stick” Wilson. Excuse me, Sir, but I was just wondering...

“The Stick”:     Get outta my way, I’m practicin’!

F/X:                    Sound of an especially loud swish.

Doug Phlegm:     Yes, well, I can see that. I just want to ask you a couple of questions.

“The Stick”:     Some people just don’t listen...

F/X:                    Sound of an even louder swish, then a loud crack followed by a moan of pain. Then static.

Jim Cronan:     Umm, we seem to have lost contact with our on-location reporter. No matter... the competition seems to be starting. The contestants are boarding their golf carts at this time. Some of you may be wondering where I am at this time. I am currently floating above the field in my nuclear-powered blimp, along with forty-eight others, I might add. As long as we don’t collide up here... but enough of this. Before the game begins, let me tell you about the other two players we didn’t have a chance to talk with before. The third player is a man by the name of Winston Stohf from the planet Oather. He has been a MegaGolf champion for three years on his home planet. Let’s see if he lasts here. The last player is a very famous player from his home planet of Sircia. His name is Sir Qualife Thek, one of the most wealthy people of his planet. You can see him down there now waving his golden golfing mallet. Well, the competition is about to begin.

F/X:                    Lyrics of Sledgehammer can be heard in the background.

Jim Cronan:     A thank you goes out to Jessica Purfle for giving us this inspirational song you can hear now. Jessica, if you’re listening, please come up to the office and pick up your pass to be the first person to enter the field for souvenirs. Well, there’s the bell, and the golf carts are off, racing down the field with their drivers waving their mallets madly in the air. It seems that The Stick is in the lead, followed closely by Sir Qualife, Uly Throttle, and last, Winston Stohf, who is now closing in rapidly on Throttle. The Stick has reached the ball, raises his mallet, and sends the ball flying with a perfect swing. During this pause, Thek passes him in his golf cart. Poor Thek doesn’t realize that no one survives the wrath of The Stick, who is now frantically pursuing him. Meanwhile, Stohf has caught up with Throttle. He raises his mallet and gives him a good whack over the head! Throttle’s golf cart is now out of control, zigzagging on the green. And Throttle is out of the game, at least temporarily, for his golf cart is stuck in the sand trap! Further up, Sir Qualiffe has reached the ball and he sends it flying. Which was a foolish action, for The Stick was there behind him with a perfect swing to the back of Qualiffe’s head. And Sir Qualiffe is knocked unconscious. That only leaves The Stick and Stohf, who is quite far behind. The Stick reaches the ball and whacks it. It’s a crazy flight – oh no, it’s landed in the Marshi Canal! He’s swinging wildly with his mallet, searching for the ball. He’s found it, and it leaves the canal with a graceful flight and lands not twenty feet from the goal! But The Stick is having a bit of trouble getting his cart out of the canal. He’s making a run for it! But wait! Stohf’s cart flies over the canal, and he can be seen grinning wildly as he bears down on The Stick. What is he doing? The Stick has turned around. He aims, then he throws his mallet into the face of the astonished Stohf! The cart flips over once, twice, three times. Looks like Stohf is finished for this game. And The Stick is heading for the goal. He whacks the ball, but it falls short of the goal by a few feet. The goalies are there first and whack the ball away. The Stick swings again, and it’s blocked again. Now The Stick is upon them, beating them senseless! I don’t believe this! I’ve never seen such brutal treatment of the goalies in my entire life! Two more goalies come out to their aide, and they are quickly dispatched also! The Stick finds the ball, and before the next two goalies reach the goal, The Stick hits it in for a win! The crowd is going wild over here. Our on-location reporter, who seems to have recovered, will see if he can get a statement from the winner...

Doug Phlegm:     Hello again, this is Doug Phlegm, and I’m standing among the crowd here as they wait to shake hands with Tom “The Stick” Wilson. Let’s get in closer and speak with him.

F/X:                    Sounds of cheering can be heard, along with a shout of “Hey, watch it!” and “Where do you think you’re going?”

Doug Phlegm:     Uh, excuse me, Mr. Wilson, but may I have a word with you?

“The Stick”:     Get away, I’m busy!

Doug Phlegm:     Uh, yes, I can see that. I would just like to ask you some questions.

“The Stick”:     Some people just don’t listen...

F/X:                    Sound of a loud swish, then a loud crack, then a loud moan of pain. Sounds of cheering from the crowd can be heard. From somewhere in the background comes a woman’s voice: “Oh my God! Jessica, what’s happened? Somebody get an ambulance, my daughter’s been trampled! Somebody PLEASE help me!” Then static.

Jim Cronan:     Uh, this is Jim Cronan again. Well, thus ends another exciting MegaGolf match. ‘Til the next exciting event, this is your official sports reporter signing off.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Big Bang Theory and Editing

Let's talk about the overwhelming exercise of editing your manuscript for a moment. And it definitely CAN be overwhelming, especially if you're in a critique group that's great about giving feedback, like the groups I currently belong to. You come back from your group with lots of notes, you sit down with your manuscript and the feedback, and then... freeze. If you listen carefully, you can actually hear the gears of your mind grind to a halt. You stare at your manuscript, and it's like you were back at the very beginning of the process, when you were staring at the blank page, wondering what to write.

Now let me jump into a day-job-related analogy. I worked with a guy at my last job who loved to put down what he liked to call The Big Bang Theory style of software development. This is one view I agreed with him on wholeheartedly. The Big Bang Theory goes something like this: When you're given a bunch of requirements to develop or enhance your software, you just throw them into your code all at once. You can take a wild guess what's going to happen if you do something like that. Your computer's inevitably going to go splodey, and you'll have no CLUE which one of the 15 things you just wrote caused the blue screen of death to appear.

How do you prevent something like this? You program ONE THING AT A TIME, then test it to see if it works before moving onto the next thing. Not only does it save headaches trying to figure out what went wrong, but at the end of the day, you've ACCOMPLISHED something. You can say, "I got this one thing done, and here's the result."

When you edit your manuscript, you should be approaching things the same exact way. Avoid The Big Bang Theory approach. Address each of those comments one at a time. You'll prevent your head from going splodey, and you'll have something to show for your work at the end of the day. Isn't it much better to say "I fixed all the dialogue throughout my entire manuscript" than "I've been trying to tackle all these issues and I've only gotten to page 10"?

Let's say the comments you received on your story are similar to the following:

1. The dialogue between the two kids in chapter 1 doesn't sound very authentic. They sound more like adults talking than kids.
2. Your language needs to be tightened up in a number of places.
3. Your story opening doesn't sound strong enough. Make the reader identify with the main character and her plight, and make the conflict more immediate.
4. The dialogue in chapter 3 also doesn't sound very authentic.

So, first reaction, brain freeze. After that, break the feedback down.

You have two comments on dialogue there, so I'd combine those into a general editing task of reviewing ALL your dialogue to see how authentic the voices are.

The others are categories by themselves - tightening up your language, and fix your story opening.

Pick one of these items to tackle and complete that first before you go on to the next. Continue until all issues are addressed. Also, once you've finished each issue, you can bring what you've done back to your critique group and show them your progress on that one issue. It'll be easier for the group to process as well, and they can stay focused on helping you with the one issue.

How do you know which one to pick first? Again, I go back to my day job for inspiration. I always pick the largest problems first and work my way down to the smallest ones. Why? Because the large problems always have the most widespread effects, and they tend to swallow the smaller problems once fixed. Changing the way I coded something to make it run faster, for instance, doesn't make any sense if the code itself doesn't work.

Similarly, tightening up the language of chapter 1 in the example I mentioned above doesn't make a lot of sense if you're going to rewrite the entire chapter anyway. So do that larger task first.

So, to recap: Approach your editing logically. Break it down into manageable tasks. Work from largest to smallest, and complete each one before moving onto the next. Don't take The Big Bang Theory approach. Keep your brain from going splodey on you. You're going to need it for the next writing project.

Feel free to comment if this method helps, or describe your own editing techniques. I'd love to hear others' experiences.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

A Day in the Life of a Writer - 10/8/13

At the moment, I don't have any words of wisdom to impart, so when this happens (which will be more often than not), I'll provide a quick view into the riveting life of this part-time writer.

Most of my day is obviously spent at the day job. I currently work as an applications developer at a local university. Those who know me or who can do a little research on the internet can probably figure out which university I'm referring to, but since this is my WRITING blog, I would rather not go into details on that here. I mention it just to illustrate the fact that I have a full time job and the writing is done part-time whenever I have a chance. I also have a family, including four kids, who I spend a lot of time with, so that cuts down further on available writing time.
For those of you who have a full-time, non-writing job, have lots of family commitments, and are trying to fit writing into your schedule, it's important to remember two things.
1. You need to be very disciplined and schedule writing time in the time you do have.
2. Many times, life throws you a lot of curve balls, and that spare time can get eaten very easily. Always remember to be flexible. It also helps to be prepared to write whenever you have a few moments, so bringing a notebook and pen, tablet, laptop, recorder, or whatever other portable writing tools you can think of with you wherever you go will help you get your writing in.
I just completed a children's book writing course at the Institute of Children's Literature (ICL). I highly recommend this institution if you're looking for some great courses on writing for children where the instructors will work with you one-on-one to help you polish your writing as well as give you assistance on looking for markets for your writing. Check out  ICL's website here: My instructor for the course was Clara Gillow Clark, and I would highly recommend her as an instructor as well. Knowledgeable, professional, encouraging, fun, and above all, patient – those are just some of her qualities. To apply for a course there, you first need to take a writing aptitude test.  I can't imagine anyone doing poorly on this test, but it is a requirement in order to take courses there. Once they've accepted your test, you can enroll in their Writing for Children and Teenagers beginners course, which will teach you how to write short fiction and nonfiction for children's magazines, as well as briefly touch on how to write a book for children. (My instructor for that course was Geraldine Gutfreund, another great instructor.) Once you've completed the introductory course, you can enroll in one of their advanced courses, one of which is the writing children's books course I just took.
Some projects I'm currently working on are:
1. Doing some editing on a middle-grade fantasy novel called Oliver and the Underlings while I wait for word from an agent I've submitted some pages to.
2. Working on a short story for The First Line Literary Journal. Every quarter, a new opening line is introduced and you are challenged to write a story using that line as the first line of your story. You can find details on that magazine here: , if you're interested.
3. Awaiting word on the status of three short stories I submitted to the Center for Educational Testing at the University of Kansas. I figured I'd try a new market for my stories I've never tried before, and I think it would be exciting to have my stories assist in a child's educational process. If anyone would like to learn more about this market, check out their website:
4. Taking a new course offered by Coursera  called Fantasy and Science Fiction: The Human Mind, Our Modern World. It looked interesting, and I'm sure it would help me with my writing. And, it's FREE. If you want to check out what free courses Coursera has to offer, check out their website:
That's all for now. I'll share more info on the day-to-day goings on of this writer another time.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Plot to the Left of Me, Character to the Right...

Recently I've been looking at discussions on writing concerning plot-driven stories vs. character-driven stories as well as having some of my own with other writers. I thought I'd share my view on this topic.
There seems to be this divide among readers and writers when it comes to plot-driven or character-driven stories. You could also say it's the same divide between genre and literary stories, since genre stories tend to be driven by plot while literary stories tend to be driven by character.
What I don't understand is why a story can't have both a strong plot AND be populated with interesting characters we want to hear all about. In fact, both are NECESSARY in a story.
Think of the characters in a story as these impressive art masterpieces, like the Mona Lisa or the Venus de Milo. You know these works of art because you've learned about them and how famous they are. Now imagine these great works of art sitting in the middle of the desert somewhere, somewhere far away from civilization where no one can see them or experience them for themselves. No one can interact with them. They're not DOING anything out there but collecting desert sand. That's what character-driven stories are like. You know about these great people, but there's no interaction between you and them. You can't relate to them on a personal level. They don't want to come on an adventure with you.
Conversely, imagine this beautiful oasis in the middle of the same desert. Maybe those same art pieces are on prominent display in the desert somewhere,  in this wonderful resort by the lake, except this time you've never heard of them or seen them before. Now imagine you're in a car that's approaching the oasis, but you're driving so fast that you just blow right by the oasis. You're moving so fast you don't even know it's there. That's what plot-driven stories are like. The action never stops long enough for you to appreciate the characters that populate the story. You don't even notice their details. You really don't care who they are. They could be anyone, but they're not anyone you can really relate to either.
What each of these stories is missing is a sense of PACING. There needs to be a balance between the amount of info you dump on the characters in the story and the amount of action those characters are doing. I've heard other writers say every sentence in the story should either advance the plot or serve as character development. I'd like to add one more caveat to this. You need a good mix of sentences that do each of these things in your story.
So how do you achieve this? Here's a good rule of thumb. Pick any page at random in your story. Or do the same in a book that's already published. Read the page and make a red mark if something appears on that page that clearly identifies characteristics of the characters that populate it. Now reread the page and put a blue mark on it if some kind of action takes place. It could be something as simple as a character pacing back and forth in an empty room, but preferably the action is related to either the goal of the character(s), or some setback or conflict the character(s) is/are experiencing.
A good story should have both a red mark and a blue mark on just about every page. If it doesn't, and this is your manuscript, think about what you can add to the story to accomplish this.
Once you’ve achieved this, your story will break that divide between the plot- and character-driven story readers. It'll open your book to a wider audience. Create those works of art, make sure the readers slow down and appreciate them, and then race those readers across the desert.
What are your thoughts on this? Do you tend to go to one type of novel over the other when you read? When you write? Or do you enjoy that balance I speak of?

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Waistband of the Blog is Expanding

That's right, readers. The blog is getting a little bigger. Time to loosen the belt a little bit. I've been meaning to put up some book reviews on my blog, and now I'm finally getting around to doing just that. I'm putting them in their own little section, entitled "George's Backlogged Book Reviews", because, well, I have a huge backlog of books I need to read, and I have a huge backlog of reviews I should get to. Prior to this, I was putting up book reviews on Goodreads, and you can see any of my old book reviews and ratings if you go here: So I'll see you all over there periodically to discuss some of the books I'm currently reading.

Friday, September 20, 2013

"Boring" Character Background (Insert Sarcasm Here)

Recently I read some reviews of a book I'm reading. One of them described the book as Stephen King's The Stand but without all the boring character back stories. I've seen this complaint about The Stand before - about how the book would be so much better if S.K. had just cut out all this unnecessary background on the characters.

The Stand happens to be my favorite book, and one of the major reasons why I love it so much is BECAUSE of the character back stories.

Now, I could go into a whole argument describing my point by telling everyone that the hero's/heroine's journey is partly an internal journey of the main character(s), and without that internal journey, there really IS no hero's/heroine's journey, blah blah blah. Instead, I'm going to take another approach to convince people the importance of character and their stories.

Suppose you suddenly got the opportunity to go on an awesome overseas trip to Europe. (Suppose also you live in the USA, so said overseas trip would make sense to you.) What is the first thing you would do? Before you even pack? That's right, if you're like me (or most people), you'd ask your significant other if he/she wants to come with you. Or you'd call up kids, parents, family members, friends, people you know, people who would appreciate such a trip. People you can relate to. People who relate to you. People without whom the experience wouldn't quite be the same. You know once you go with these people you'll have the time of your life, because you can share the experience, bounce the things you see and experience off them, making it so much better.

Now imagine the same trip, but you go alone. Or maybe you go with a group of total strangers as part of a tour. What's the difference? Companionship. Camaraderie. Relationship. Someone to bounce your experiences off of. Someone who appreciates them just the way you do.

Think of a story like a trip. The story may take you places you've always wanted to go. Places you've never seen before. Exciting places. Who would you rather go with on that journey? A character you really don't know? Or someone who you've come to know as someone like you? Someone who would appreciate the journey with you. Someone you can experience things with.

What are your thoughts on this? Do you agree? Disagree? What are those stories where you've enjoyed going on the journey? What characters were those stories populated with?

Tuesday, August 13, 2013


Hi all.

First. a quick update on the entry in Miss Snark's First Victim's Secret Agent contest. I wasn't selected. (Awwwwww!). However, you CAN see the winning entries on Miss Snark's First Victim's blog here:! (Yaaaayyy!) Go check them out, and again, check out all the entries there. There are some amazing writers out there that I hope get their books published someday!

Second, not to be on the ground for too long, I got back up and submitted the same story opening to one of WriteOnCon's contests. For those of you who don't know what WriteOnCon is, it's an all-online writers' conference specially designed for those who either can't afford to attend a writers' conference or just can't seem to get out to one because they're all too far away. WriteOnCon is all the excitement of a writers' conference right at your keyboard. And it's all FREE! So go check out the live chats with authors and agents, specialized writing topics, contests, videos, and writing tips and news awaiting you there: Even if you can't participate in real time, the cool thing is that everything is archived there to view at your own convenience, even transcripts of live chats. Unfortunately it's only for 2 days, and Day 1 is just about over, but Day 2 is just about to begin. So enjoy!

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Secret Agent Man

So just to show you I've still been working on the writing thing in my absence, here's a linky for ya:

The opening for my middle grade fantasy novel, Oliver and the Underlings, was selected by lottery to be looked at by an agent, who at the moment remains a secret, in Miss Snark's First Victim's Secret Agent contest. Go check out the first 250 words of Oliver and the Underlings. My entry is #23. And feel free to peruse that site for other contest entries, contest announcements, and valuable writing-related information.


To any/all readers still following along: changes are a'comin'! I'll be giving this blog a good swift kick soon, so stay tuned. My life has become a little less complicated recently, so I'll hopefully have more time to write, blog, review books, and, most importantly, get back in touch with you, the readers and writers out there.