Tuesday, December 19, 2017



An Art or A Job?

Too many people starting off to become writers take on a very unrealistic view of themselves as artists (spelled with a capital 'A'). They wander around their cities or towns, a notebook under their arm, pen in their pocket, waiting for the elusive inspiration to fall from the sky. Inspiration to them is a divine thing sent down as a whole cloth with nothing lacking but their own precious name under the title.

Maybe this works a time or two, but eventually the muse will abandon them. They tear at their hair, they blame the quality of their pen, or the mundane nature of the world they live in, or the company they keep. Truth be told, the muse packed it in because he/she/it realized that they were doing all the heavy lifting. They didn't abandon John Q. Smith, Genius. They went looking for a partner in the endeavor. Someone who was willing to put in the W-O-R-K!

That's what 99% of art is - Work. Standing before an easel, picking up a maul and chisel, or sitting in front of a keyboard. It's the repetitious doing of those tasks that leads to the success your looking for. Doodling, noodling, and composing really bad sentences for hours on end. The inspiration lies in the experimentation, the one-in-ten attempts that yield a thought or project worth pursuing.

Here we are in the holiday season and I am sitting in front of my terminal five to seven hours a day, six days a week working on rewrites and outlines, sending out submissions, keeping track of what got sent where and how long it's been there. When I'm not actively working on poetry, prose, or painting, I'm researching possibilities for a piece. I'm in libraries or museums. I'm on the road or flying somewhere and absorbing the places I where arrive and the people I encounter. I relax with music, recorded, live, and what little I can create on my instruments, and I read-read-read!

I'm one of those people you encounter at open mic's. Like a good blues or jazz musician, it's not above me to - Uh - borrow a line, or a character, or a theme. But mostly I sit here, like I am at this moment, banging at keys. Has any of it made me famous? No, well maybe in some small ways, but I have the satisfaction of knowing I've reached audiences in any number of venues and, with the grace of that muse, and a lot of my own time and effort, have found the words to reach into their hearts and minds and deliver something that either lightened their load or let them know they weren't alone. All because I put in the TIME!

Thursday, December 7, 2017



Sitting here in Southern California these last couple of days watching wildfires boiling through the hills around the town I live in I was struck by something I saw on Twitter that directly referenced the writing life. It went something like this:

                         The house is on fire, my car was stolen, and the cat exploded. 1500 easy
                         words today, things are good.

While the disaster spread through the surrounding area I continued on like a runaway locomotive with the task of rewriting the novel I've written. One chapter at a time, red pen in hand, being as ruthless and unforgiving as I can bring myself to be. Not one page has avoided this cyclone of correction and mark-up aimed at reducing verbal diarrhea and clarifying my thoughts. All the while I try to keep in mind that arcane bit of editorial advice I picked up along the way, "In writing you must kill all your darlings."

This homily has been credited to any number of authors through history - Oscar Wilde, Chekov, Stephen King. Never one to let sleeping dogs get in a nap if I can poke at them with a stick, I went looking for reliable attribution for this. Turns out it comes from a lecture given in 1914 by Arthur Quiller-Couch entitled, "On Style", in which he railed against 'extraneous ornament';

        "If you require a practical rule of me, I will present you with this.: 'Whenever you feel an
         an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it - whole-heartedly - 
         and delete it before sending your manuscript to press. Murder your darlings."

What Quiller-Couch is telling us is to be as flamboyant as you want in the draft. Get the deadly sin of purple prose out of your system while you are still inventing plot, characters, and timeline, then be just as unforgiving with the eradication of the beast. What we feel to be the most precious turn of phrase, the most incredibly creative use of language, has no place in the reader's understanding of the story. All the flowers in the world will not cover the stench of self-indulgence.

Every phrase should serve only one purpose - advancing the tale you are telling. Do I need to understand why it took so long to potty train the main character? Probably not. Was the exact temperature centigrade necessary for me to understand it was a raw, damp day in East London? Doubt it. Is the character's name required in every line he or she appears in? Uh-uh.

Go like hell getting the story down and ignore all the surgical blood letting to come. But when the time arrives for fine tuning, your pages should come away looking like the runner-up in a knife fight - Bloodied from head to toe. Then, when you hit print the next time, the tawny beauty you envisioned will be on its way to completion. Do this enough times and eventually you can press the send button with a little less self-doubt - maybe.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017




Like so many other writers, I'm in the middle of something. Right now it's rewriting the novel I'm working on. The process is only different in the amount of freedom it entails. Writing the thing was a seat of the pants dream. Sit down and give full reign to the work itself. Just follow it where it wants to go and don't ask a lot of questions.

I set off with easy goals of a couple of pages a day, but before I knew it I was banging away a chapter per session. Ninety-one thousand words later - Voila, a first draft. Of course, a first draft is just that, a draft, a very detailed (In some places over-detailed) outline of an actual book. You know, that finely polished bit of literary art that someone besides your mother is willing to part with the requisite cost of a copy to own.

The fun's over. The work begins - all the way back at those fateful first words: CHAPTER ONE. This is where so many people end up flummoxed. After all, the stories done, the spark of creation is gone. Metaphorically, the child has been born. Just like child birth, it takes a lot of work after that point to take this squalling, red faced, wrinkled kind of almost being and raise it to admirable adulthood.

But where to start when the magic's over? Take small bites when eating an elephant!. Begin at the beginning by finding all those adjectives and adverbs. Are they necessary? Stephen King suggests you go after words ending in 'ly' with ruthlessness. Can you find other ways to begin a sentence than with the ubiquitous 'The'? Does every sentence involving a particular character need to start with the character's name or the gender correct pronoun?

'THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE', 'THE ELEMENTS OF GRAMMAR', and 'THE ELEMENTS OF EDITING, plus an unabridged dictionary and thesaurus should be within arms reach. I'd also suggest 'REVISION AND SELF-EDITING FOR PUBLICATION'. Yes, I know that's what you think an editor is for but a good one will cost you. Why not get as much of the work done before you have to start dragging out your wallet? Not to mention, if you're pursuing the traditional route of trying to entice an agent into taking you on, the more polished the product you deliver to them, the higher your credibility and the easier their job is when it comes to interesting publishers in your work.

Too often, neophytes get it into their heads that it's someone else's responsibility to tame the savage they've brought into the world. Your baby is yours. If you're not willing to help mold and shape it, then it's liable to end up an orphan.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Back Cover Copy for the novel I'm working on under the working title, "EYES LIKE WALLS".

This is being released as a beta version. Feel free to offer comments or suggestions.

"Vernon Dawson is slipping into that kind of Hollywood obscurity reserved for those who are no longer glamorous (or never were in the first place) and is settling nicely into his oblivion, thank-you very much indeed. That is, until he takes a gig photographing a private party for Valeria. What she leaves behind at his place following their intimate after-party encounter sets off a series of events that sucks Vernon into the world of the 'Deep State', staged and actual alien abductions, and a covert network of genetically engineered androgyny controlled by Valeria's superiors, 'The Handlers'.

Former National Football League superstar, and now full-time woman, Melanie (Melvin) Thorenson, Rides to Vern's rescue. She enlists the aid of the ne'er-do-well heir to Middle Eastern billions, Prince Sheik Mukhtar al Zaffir. But it's not until they encounter the cyborg "Five" and his bosses, "The Others", that the plot really deepens. Vernon Dawson isn't just an unwitting dupe, he's also the bearer of a specific bit of DNA that is key to the goals of one organization's quest for interstellar conquest and their opponent's hopes for thwarting them.

Vernon just wishes he'd never opened that damned valise he found in the back of his car. As it is, he may be humanity's last reluctant hope for salvation. Or at least a good night's sleep."

Presently I'm in rewrites of this work. It tips the scales at a bit over 93,000 words. I'd love to hear your thoughts so get back to me on the form below.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017



Last thing I want to do is sound like some one's Mom but, "Turn off the damned television and go do something."

Honestly, television is probably the greatest destroyer of creativity I can think of. It is a weapon designed to annihilate brain cells at an apocalyptic rate and aimed at reducing the IQ of the general population to the dreaded lowest common denominator. It's the great intellectual override. The minute the picture appears on the screen the lights go off in your eyes.

The same with too much of the music being pumped out by major labels. The same repetitive beats, the same repetitive lyrics, the same repetitive brain numbing effect. Why? So that you'll wander around all day going, "I could have done that." Given the resources of most recording studios and Auto-tune, yes, you probably could. Does that mean, just because you can, it will be better? I'm giving odds on the next person with a ten minute career.

Go to a museum. Go to the library. Go to a historic site. Especially one with devoted docents and re-enactments. Go to a beach, or a mountain, or the middle of a desert. Take up a musical instrument or art. Get involved in theater. Go to world music event.

Why? Because a challenged mind is a an active and imaginative mind. By getting out of your own head and into someone else's you expand the vocabulary of your own creativity. Take a good look at the painting above. This is by Marc Chagall. The intensity of the colors, the fanciful and playful composition. Other than right now, you probably would never encounter this work. I wouldn't if I hadn't taken the time yesterday to go to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. I saw this and several other of Chagall's works, along with the costumes and sets he designed for opera and ballet.

When Chagall was asked why he chose such a broad palate and such dream like presentation he said, "Because I can." But it was the exposure he had to the music of Russia, the art of Paris, and the metropolitan life of New York that filled his 97 years with images and inspiration.

A couple of years ago I was lucky enough to visit the village of Ste. Paul de Vence in Province, France. It was a place that was special to any number of artists. In a small cemetery on the end of the old walled fortress, opposite the main gates, rests Marc, and his second wife Vava. I walked away feeling lucky to have been able to connect the man, his art, and his final resting place. Where have you been lately?  

Saturday, November 18, 2017



I told myself I was going to take three weeks and let the novel I was working on simmer. Steep in its juices, so, when it was time to refine and season the stew, the fat would be ready to skim away. I was going to do nothing until then.

Well, two short stories, a couple of poetry submissions, and decisions taken and releases filled out for the next paintings to submit for an upcoming show - and three weeks have flown by. That's the whole secret to the artistic life. Write, paint, compose, stare at the ceiling until a vagrant idea flits through. Then write it down before it gets away.

Doodle. Noodle. Read, read, read, read, read.

Before I know it I'm headed for my twelfth art exhibit this year. I've taken four awards from the twelve, so far, and I have eighteen short stories out for consideration by eighteen different publications. Not to mention the four poetry submissions my gorgeous wife made for me. Everything from a maximum of three pieces to a complete chapbook.

This all occurs around researching markets, agents, building my platform, re-opening this blog which laid in neglect far too long, and ordering new business cards.

Then there's the constant research for the creative portion. Which involves everything from scouring libraries, the Internet, the daily newspapers, cookbooks (If you're going to crack one open - Damn it, cook something!). Add to this excursions to museums and historic sites, and just plain old fashioned road trips for the hell of it. If you're going to write about a particular area, you might as well know what it looks like.

Is there any such thing as down time? I eavesdrop and people watch, I flip over rocks and poke around tide pools. Take pictures. Make sketches. Whistle, hum, yodel, give out a barbaric YAWP! Down time is coming in abundance. When they put the pennies on your eyes.

Oh, did I mention I'm rewriting a novel?

Friday, November 17, 2017



                                    WHERE THE HELL HAVE I BEEN?

Probably the easiest of the questions to answer. I was wrapping up all those years I'd spent on an everyday job. I was spending a lot of time at open microphones and chasing after the recognition of poetry journals that paid in one contributor's copy. I was getting wrapped up in parts of the literary life I wasn't cut out for or comfortable in.

I was back in my studio, working on my painting and entering things in all kinds of shows. The challenging ones were the juried exhibitions. Who knows what goes through a juror's mind? Whatever it is I have garnered a few awards (some of them accompanied with cash). Sure, it was local, but it led to having pieces placed in Massachusetts, Virginia, Georgia, and other locales.

My wife and I have traveled to wonderful places. Alaska and British Columbia, the Mediterranean. All over the Southwest U.S. I photographed and sketched and compiled enough material for a whole other lifetime. Still, there was a nagging question. Was I really a "WRITER"?

Now I've embarked on a journey into that next level of difficulty. Chasing after that elusive goal of being published by literary journals and getting paid for the experience. Having been the other route, being thankful just for the chance to see my name in print, and, believe me, I always was, I felt it was time to kick it up a notch.

So, I sat down at this infernal machine and began banging on the keys with all the intensity of an enraged ape. I sent out story after story. I self-published two poetry chapbooks that I flogged at readings where, if you were lucky, they passed the hat to cover the gas it took to get there and you sold enough merchandise to cover printing costs.

Stories were sent out. Stories were systematically rejected. All this I have lovingly enshrined on a spread sheet created for just that purpose. What was the main lesson learned? Have some fun while you're driving yourself to distraction.

Don't take rejection personally. There are a lot of people pounding away at keyboards and a shrinking galaxy of outlets. The people who are tasked with reading what is sent to these journals and anthologies see an incomprehensible number of manuscripts all during their reading periods. What you felt to be so unique and divinely inspired may just be the three hundredth treatment of that same plot and setting.

Don't give up. If it gets kicked back with that perfunctory, "Not for us at this time", turn it right around. There are books full of stories about stories that were rejected innumerable times. You might just be the next Papa Hemingway, but even he had to be discovered.

Don't write what you think everyone else wants to read. Write what it is you want to say. Write it in the way you want to say it. Be you! It's all you've got. Most of all, don't quit. I had my first poem published in 1975. I've had dozens of fits and starts. I'm still here. Where's it going to lead. Who cares. In all reality, it is the journey and not the destination.

In the words of Jack Nicholson in, THE SHINING, "I'm baaaack!"