Wednesday, March 31, 2010

How-to on Literary Agents

I know that many of you reading this blog are writers or aspiring writers in the making. Over the last few weeks I’ve had several people ask me about how to query agents themselves regarding their own manuscripts, ranging from everything from non-fiction histories to commercial fantasy. So I figured I’d put in my two cents on the subject to give you an idea of the surprising extensiveness of the overall process of querying an agent.

Once you start asking people or reading up online, you’re going to hear a lot of differing opinions on this topic. Now, I’m not claiming to be some kind of super expert in this field. I can only offer advice on my own experiences so far.

The first question you might ask yourself is…why do I need an agent? I’m going to simplify some things here, but basically a manuscript has to go through three mega-stages in order to go from your desk to becoming an actual book at Barnes and Noble. For simplicity sake, let’s call these three mega-stages Agent, Publishing House, and Bookseller. First you need to convince an agent to sign a contract with you. The agent has the contacts to actually get your manuscript read by someone in a publishing house. Most publishing houses only accept material from literary agents they know and trust. Likewise, if a publishing house agrees to back your book they in turn can convince a bookseller (like Borders or Barnes and Noble) to carry your book on its shelves. Now there are many, many sub-stages along this route that I won’t get into here, but expect at each stage to have to do extensive rewrites, promotions, and endure a lot of humbling in the process. But don’t fret; it’s all for the better good of improving your story and brining it to people who are just dying to read your book.

Let’s start at the beginning…getting an agent. This is the stage I myself am at, and through perseverance (and rewrites) I finally have several potential agents interested. But remember, everything takes time. Agents are super busy people, and even if they decide they really like your book, they probably will still need a few months to get back to you as they have other clients, and they not only have to like your idea, they have to be able to successfully pitch it to the rest of their agency before even pitching it to a publishing house. It’s a big commitment on their part, so nothing happens overnight.

One friend asked me, can you query agents via email or snail mail? Totally. I’ve done this hundreds of times myself. The key is to really research who you’re querying (i.e. don’t send stuff for a fantasy novel to an agent who only represents romance novels). Also, polishing your query – your brief blurb about your book – really makes a difference. Now truthfully, you have to remember that the odds are always against you. In fact, through email or snail mail queries I’ve only ever had a handful of agents reply positively. Which means hundreds of rejections letters along the way. But hey, what doesn’t kill you just makes you stronger.

What really helped me was actually attending writer’s conferences. This enabled me to meet literary agents face to face, and to develop a better pitch for my story. As a result I ended up with about six different literary agents interested in my work, several of whom have since asked to see my entire manuscript. In the meantime, I’m always writing. I continue to work with my professional editor to polish my manuscript, The Long Defeat, I also work on other stories, and of course this blog. It’s a lot like a second job…except you don’t get paid. So if you choose to take the path less traveled by, please by all means go for it, and just remember that you have to do it first and foremost because you love it. Ciao!

Monday, March 29, 2010

In Search of the Finer Things…and then some

So the weekend is over. Boo. And it’s a workday at that. Double Boo. But, fortunately, I’ve got just the remedy for those Monday blues.

Today, I’d like to put a little plug in for another blog I follow that I think deserves a moment in the spotlight for its overall awesomeness. As some of you may have noticed in the links section on the right-hand side of this page I have several other cool blogs listed, and today I’d like to offer up some praise for Stacy Grow’s “In Search of the Finer Things.” Not just a site for all forms of food lovers and cook aficionados worldwide, Stacy’s blog also brings in a real human element and inspiration to her posts about food and life itself. One part cookbook, one part philosophical, and two parts fun, “In Search of the Finer Things” appeals to pretty much anyone with a soul!

What I really like about this blog is Stacy’s ability to cut to what’s really important. A week doesn’t go by that I don’t read something on her blog that not only makes me dream of delicious food, but actually gives me some genuine insight into how to live a better, more enjoyable life. In other words, real food for thought (please forgive my sheepish use of this pun, but in this case the cliché really holds true). See for yourself what I mean by checking out her regularly updated blog posts. I’m not much of an iron chef in the kitchen myself, but I am constantly intrigued by how this remarkable blog continually keeps my interest by bringing up new ideas and notions I would have otherwise never thought of in the first place. Best of all, every time I read this blog, I can’t help coming across an article that doesn’t make me smile. And that’s something worthwhile.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Short-story Contest Winner: Pride

This week's contest winner is Brian Noce. Pulled from random from the list of followers on this blog, I have inserted Brian's name as the protagonist in this week's short-story. Continung with the theme of the seven deadly sins, this week's story features the topic of pride. Stay tuned and maybe next week you'll see your name appear as a hero...or maybe a villain. Enjoy!


Brian had hunted most of his life for the famed killer-bird of New Zealand. Now deep in the wilds, he stalked it through the brush, his chest damp with sweat. Gun cocked and ready, he raised his rifle through a tangle of ferns as he spied a furry, bipedal shape lingering beside the lagoon below. Alone in the glade, he sighted the shadowy creature grazing among the reeds.

Others had laughed at his expeditions. Hunters and ornithologists alike. It didn’t exist they said. Brian almost grinned as he peered down the sight of his barrel at the supposedly mythical killer-bird of New Zealand’s south island. Brian had only seen drawings, depicted by imaginative artists listening to second-hand tales from aboriginals. With the modern age, not so much as a blurry photograph had surfaced of one of these prehistoric flightless birds. And now he had a chance to bring back a real flesh and bone carcass.

Brian edged his way round the sedge and brambles of the forest floor, keeping at least one eye upon the murky shape of the large-beaked bird foraging beside the water. A beak thick enough to crack a man in half, Brian surmised, as the animal chomped tough bundles of swamp reeds like cud between with jaws. It seemed unaware of his presence.

Raising his rifle once more, Brian focused his sights on the monster’s thick gizzard. He wrapped a finger around the trigger, squinting one eye in the damp humid air. The bird craned its head aloft, ruffling its tail feathers and flexing its muscular legs. Brian clicked off the safety on his gun. His quarry stood only a few dozen yards away.

A trio of knee-high chicks emerged from behind the large, feathered beast. Brian stayed his finger on the live trigger, opening both eyes. He watched as the three young birds trotted about their mother’s long feet, gnawing on blades of grass and each other’s tail feathers with playful veracity. They chirped and purred with the gleeful awkwardness of newborns.

Brian shook the beads of perspiration from his head, taking aim once more. He kept his gun trained on the massive dodo-like head of the mother bird, but time and again one of the tiny underlings danced across his field of view. The lone hunter waited patiently for a clear shot, not willing to risk his one chance at his prize over a tiny chicklet. As Brian sat there the wind shifted and the mother bird reared her skull towards him, flashing a single sapphire eye intently in his direction. Despite his camouflage, Brian was certain the killer-bird knew he was near. For a moment even the trinity of baby killer-birds paused, one stopping before Brian’s poised field of fire. The hunter opened both eyes once more and stared at the family across the tiny clearing.

The mother bird turned her head and trotted out of the glade, the tall reeds and lagoon waters left trembling in her wake. One by one, her three offspring darted after her into the deep forest, where neither man nor woman ever tread. Alone in the glade, Brian lowered his rifle and stood and gazed a while before turning around and heading back towards camp.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Working with a Professional Editor

Meet my new editor! I have begun work with professional editor, Lea Beresford, who has agreed to help me polish my novel The Long Defeat. I have various literary agents interested in my novel right now, and what better way make a good impression than to have my manuscript professionally reviewed. Lea worked for the prestigious Random House Inc., and has since gone into freelance editing for herself. I got to hear her speak at this year’s San Francisco Writer’s Conference in February and found myself impressed by both her background as well as her enthusiasm for books. After meeting her in person I provided her with a sample of my Civil War novel. She not only liked it, but later agreed to sign a contract with me in order to have the entire work professionally edited.

As an editor, Lea does more than dot every “i” and cross every “t.” She definitely keeps an eye toward spelling, grammar, and all the usual elements of proofreading, but she also offers keen conceptual advice and thoroughly reads and rereads a manuscript in order to make sure that every sentence, paragraph, and page makes sense and flows properly in its own right. So far we’re about 50 pages into my story and Lea’s edits have already worked wonders for me. As an author I’m very close to the novel I’m working on, and while it provides great passion and inspiration on the page, it doesn’t necessarily make me the most objective critic. That’s where Lea comes in. She brings a fresh perspective when examining my story, and lets me know what sentences are really good and which words may need to be edited out.

One thing I’ve already learned about myself is that I love to use adjectives and adverbs in my writing. This is fine during a first draft, but generally most adverbs will slow a reader down, and as fun as adjective are, you only need so many of them per page. These are the types of things I have learned just from my first few weeks of working with Lea Beresford. You can learn more about Lea at She Writes (which by the way is a pretty cool site). For more information on my own novel and its progress along the road towards publishing checkout more here. Thanks.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Official Beginning of Spring

Blossoms, sunshine, the outdoors. Pollen, dusty closets, and allergies. This weekend kicked off the official start of the spring season, and with it the proverbial vernal resolutions known as “Spring Cleaning.” You may wonder to yourself why spring starts on one day versus another, something to do with a groundhog perhaps? Not quite. The Vernal or Spring Equinox (usually around March 20-22 annually) marks the point in the year when a day has exactly 12 hours of darkness and 12 hours of light. As spring heads towards summer the days will continue to inevitably grow longer and longer in terms of daylight hours. The groundhog it turns out doesn’t have much control one way or the other regardless of when or whether he sees his shadow or not.

So I guess somebody somewhere at some point decided this would be a good time of year to clean out all the winter junk accumulated since Christmas. I for one usually fail to feel any of the supposed thaw of my wintry procrastination and have decided to try to come up with some helpful tips (or in my case self-tricks) in order to begin that task list of spring reorganization.

They say to take it one day at a time (as though there is any other way) and to basically set yourself one task a day, the idea being that over the course of several weeks you should accomplish your goals. I’ve tried doing this with all the necessary yard work my garden will require this year. This weekend I started trimming bushes and shrubs, but after hours of labor it hardly looked like I’d done anything at all. We’ll see how this progresses in the coming weeks as spring planting time for my garden fast approaches.

Another helpful bit of wisdom some friends and family have shared with me revolves around the idea of helpers. It’s okay to ask for help, just be willing to lend someone else a hand when they need it. For instance, if you have a big project that might take you days by yourself, invite some willing helpers over one Saturday or Sunday and get it all done together. My neighbors last year did this and cooked a big barbeque for all their friends and family that came over to help them clean the house and yard. Effective, and also a community builder.

The final tip I learned actually came from something I heard from Deepak Chopra. He said that in modern society we often collect and buy far more things than we need and often feel weighed down by it all. He suggests that for every one item you purchase, receive or bring into your home; make sure that one item already within your household must go out. In other words if you get a new blender from your aunt this year, donate that old toaster in the garage. Or if you buy yourself a new pair of jeans, sell that extra table and chairs taking up space in the garage.

Obviously, all of these tasks are easier said than done, but I find that springtime can be a much more effective time for resolutions than New Years. The weather is nicer, our moods are improving, and it just feels like there’s more possibility in their air for reordering our lives for the better. Remember, you don’t have to change the world (at least not overnight), just start with yourself. One little step at a time.

Friday, March 19, 2010

So You Think You’re Lazy? Short-Story Contest

This week’s short-story contest winner is Michael Micheletti! Drawn from random, his name will be inserted as the protagonist into this week’s tale. As per usual all contestants names are drawn from a hat (based on the followers on this blog) and have their name used in my weekly short-story. All stories of course are fictional and bear no resemblance to the name of the winner involved (minor disclaimer). In continuance of my forty days of short-stories for Lent I have continued the seven deadly sins theme with a story about sloth. I recently just finished reading John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces, which inspired my idea for this week’s short tale. Have a great weekend, and enjoy!


Mike left a pile Cheetos on his mother’s sofa. The television flickered blue light across his long frame, sprawled along the living room couch. A motherly voice trickled in from the other room, nasally asking him for the hundredth time if he would come with her to the cemetery. The thirty-year-old, unshaven, shaggy haired Mike failed to stir. He reached into the bag for another fistful of Cheetos. His mother called his name again while she fixed her hair in the bathroom mirror.

   “Shh!” he silenced her. “Captain Picard is on.”

   “Honey, it’s your grandfather’s funeral,” she replied, appearing in the doorway.

   Mike kept his eyes to the television set.

   “I don’t do burials,” he grumbled, munching on more Cheetos. “They’re always full of old people, and old people give me hives. Besides I couldn’t possibly go outside, I’m still sick and my immune system has yet to recover.”

   “You stubbed your toe, you didn’t catch the flu,” his mother retorted. “That’s what you get for leaving those toys laying around. Honestly, what full grown man has dolls?”

   “Those are collectors’ items,” Mike pointed a finger. “And once the market peaks on eBay my original action figures from Battlestar Galactica will be worth a small fortune.”

   “Don’t pretend you’re saving up stocks and bonds,” his mother replied, fastening her earrings. “You’d make more money with an actual job instead of loafing on your mother’s couch, eating your mother’s food, sucking up my retirement pension in the process.”

   “I tried the business world once, mother,” Mike wrinkled his nose. “I nearly stifled under all that corporate bureaucracy and red tape.”

   “You sold ice cream from a cart in the park for two weeks,” she rebutted. “Mr. Leon had to fire you for refusing to sell to Girl Scouts.”

   “They’ve already cornered the market on cookies, I wasn’t going to give those smart little hussies a monopoly on drumsticks and missiles,” Mike frowned. “The crafty urchins were busy buying snow cones and Dove bars from me for 50 cents and selling it on the black market for a dollar to their peers.”

   “They were twelve year olds,” his mother frowned.

   “They were extortionists!” Mike boomed. “Now are you going or are you determined to ruin the rest of the Farpoint episode? The Enterprise is in considerable peril.”

   His mother shook her head.

   “And to think of all your grandfather did for you,” she remarked.

   “He couldn’t remember my name half the time,” Mike replied.

   “He was old,” his mother folded her arms.

   “He was drunk,” Mike scoffed. “He used to mix brandy in my baby formula.”

   “Now, that only happened once,” she fumed. “He was very fond of you.”

   “Is that why he called me Molly all the time?” Mike said between Cheeto bites.

   “Well, with the size of your chest you do look a bit girly now,” his mother muttered.

   “Get me some fresh chips before you go, these ones taste stale,” Mike suggested.

   “Michael, I’m putting my foot down,” his mother began. “You come with me right now or God will curse you for dishonoring your own kin.”

   “I went to college and law school,” Mike smirked. “I’m educated beyond beliefs in a Santa Claus, bearded Sky-man or any other deity for that matter.”

   “You took one semester of each and never graduated,” his mother replied. “And as for the Almighty, he’s already plucking your scalp bald in retribution.”

   “Yes, but he leaves the sides,” Mike observed, running a palm along his ear.

   “Last chance, Michael,” his mother tapped her foot. “You come or so help me…”

   Mike glanced up at her shaking the empty Cheetos bag imploringly. Grumbling, his mother left the room, and prepared to depart the house. As she did so she tossed him a new bag of Lays Sour Cream and Onion before exiting the front door. Mike popped the seal with one hand while upping the volume on the remote.

   “Ka’ Pla!” he grinned in Klingon.

   The sound of phasers and spaceships boomed throughout the darkened living room.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Well, St. Patty’s Day has come again, and with it our celebration of everything Irish. Since half my family comes from one part of Ireland or another I though I’d share some gems of Irish-ness to make your own St. Patrick’s Day more memorable. Because after all, today we’re all Irish!

Now if you want to actually speak Irish, let me tell you that the Irish Gaelic can befuddle most English-speakers as its Celtic pronunciations differ widely from most other Indo-European languages. However, for today I’ll give you a real easy one. Erin go Bragh! It commonly means “Ireland forever,” and if you say this to most any Irish or even Irish-Americans today you’re likely to generate a little smile of genuine surprise and glee. Try it out for yourself, it rolls off the tongue nicely.

Many things come to people’s minds when they think of Ireland this day. Some think of St. Patrick and snakes while others picture fields full of clover and cows, but trust me, there’s a lot more to celebrate. Irish peoples have lived on their famed Emerald Isle since before the end of the last Ice Age, and recent genetic studies have shown that the Irish are descendants of the original inhabitants of Europe, sharing genomes with a few other isolated populations that trace their genetic line all the way back to the Neolithic. So with more than 10,000 years of history behind them you can’t blame the Irish for developing their own peculiarities.

Some things I particularly enjoy about Irish culture are their food, drink, and books. More writers have come from Ireland than one might expect for an island the size of Maine, and yet they have had a disproportionally large literary impact on Western civilization despite this. Poets such as Yeats, Heaney, and Kavanagh. Playwrights like Singe, Shaw, Goldsmith, O’Casey, and Beckett. Novelists including Joyce, Wilde, and Swift. Short-story authors from O’Flaherty to O’Conner. Historical and cultural writers from Lady Gregory to Edmund Burke. The list goes on and on.

Of course, their stews, Irish breads, and their love of every meat makes Irish food a comfort that even Hobbits would find filling and satisfying. And then there’s Guinness. Ah, the stout. As the Irish themselves put it, on the eight and glorious day of creation in the Bible, God did indeed create beer…to keep the Irish from conquering the world. And it has dutifully served its purpose ever since.

So whether you share some corned beef and cabbage with family this evening, or hit up the local pub with some of your friends, or simply indulge in a few Irish books whilst sipping some good strong tea, remember that being Irish is not a birthright, but rather a state of mind. Not something that is easily described, but instead must be experienced first-hand. So go out and enjoy the day, sport your green attire with pride, and don’t forget to greet those you meet with a hearty Erin go Bragh!

Monday, March 15, 2010

More on Ancient Musings

Howdy everyone! I’m a little behind this week regarding this next short-story contest, but I hope to have something up for your guys in the next couple of days. I won’t blame my postponement on the Spring Forward Time change this weekend, but I do find it crazy just how often the well laid plans I make for my two-days off often get funneled in entirely unexpected directions. But I’m sure most of your lives can boast plenty of craziness as well!

Each week I like to highlight the work of my fellow writers and their blogs in the community. Last week I gave you some introductory information from Meghan Sullivan regarding her strides in the realm of historical fiction. Below I’ve posted a spiel specially prepared by Meghan for everyone following this blog. In addition to my weekly contests, look for more stories on other fiction and non-fiction authors in the coming weeks ahead. In the meantime checkout Ancient Musings, and any of the other cool writer’s links I’ve posted on the right-hand side of this blog. Thanks!

Hello Everyone! I won't take too much of your time since you're here to enjoy Mark's adventures in writing. I just wanted to let you know a little about who I am and what I do.

By day, I'm a mild mannered database editor at IGN, but by night I'm a fierce historical fiction writer! My current work focuses on the life and times of Themistocles, a man you may never heard of but to whom you owe your freedom. You see, Themistocles was the naval commander who saved Athens and its fledgling democracy from a massive invasion by the Persians some 2,500 years ago. Now I know that many of you think that Ancient Greece is a tedious subject, but I guarantee you this man had a VERY exciting life. He witnessed the birth of democracy, built a navy from the ground up, tricked his allies and his enemies into doing whatever he wanted, and finally was hunted down like a wanted criminal at the end of his life. If nothing else, you certainly won't be bored while reading about Themistocles! So if this peeks your interest at all, check out my blog Ancient Musings and let me know what you think. --Meghan Sullivan

Friday, March 12, 2010

Take the What-Would-Shakespeare-Do Quiz

Friday has come and as usual my mood lightens up at the prospect of the coming weekend. Today I’ve just posted a fun little idea my wife and I joked about the other night, basically comparing hypothetical situations regarding famous authors, characters, and hero-types if they had to compete in ordinary, everyday situations. Take the little quiz yourself and see how you think these characters/people should stack up against each other. Have a great weekend everyone!


   1. Who would most likely get out of a speeding ticket?

     a. Shakespeare – Cut us do we not bleed, give me a citation do I not cry?
     b. Ben Kenobi – This isn’t the speeding Miata you’re looking for.
     c. Hermione Granger – Expecto Patronum!

   2. In each of these pairings, which person would win in a duel?

     a. Captain Kirk versus Scarlet O’Hara – Well, I do declare!
     b. An oompa loompa versus Tiny Tim – My whooping cough (ehuh, ehuh).
     c. Ernest Hemingway versus David Bowie (from Labyrinth) – You remind me of the babe…

   3. Which villain would most likely prefer to be your personal nemesis if you were neighbors?

     a. Emperor Palpatine – Your trash is on my side of the lawn, you will pay for your lack of vision!
     b. Professor Moriarty – Tough luck Sherlock, I don’t know where your unemployment checks in the mail have disappeared to…
     c. Hannibal Lecter – Yes, I saw your in-laws, I had them over for dinner.

   4. Name the wedding that would be most uncomfortable to attend.

     a. King Arthur and Guinevere – Let’s choose Lancelot as the best-man.
     b. Bram Stoker and Mary Shelley – Is that a draft I feel on my neck?
     c. Yoda and Gollum – May the divorce be with you.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

George R.R. Martin Fans Rejoice! A Game of Thrones comes to HBO.

That’s right folks, George R.R. Martin, the world famous fantasy writer of the seven book saga of "Fire and Ice" recently announced on his blog (quirkily titled “Not a Blog”) that HBO has begun making a ten part television series of his first book, A Game of Thrones. Martin himself is in the throes of writing book six of the planned seven book series and if this TV miniseries proves a success every book may get its own shot to be translated into film. These books have already been a cult phenomenon for some time so you can probably imagine the buzz about seeing these stories portrayed onscreen.

HBO has already shot the pilot episode and the fabled character of Eddard Stark will be played by none other than Sean Bean (our good friend Boromir from Lord of the Rings films). For those of you unfamiliar with Martin’s work, he writes long epic fantasy novels, and his mythical realm of Westeros has everything from magical sages to warring knights to undead creatures from the frosty northlands. His much anticipated sixth book in the series, A Dance of Dragons, still remains unfinished. However, Martin claims that he has completed over 1300 pages so far in this next installment in the series, after which only one more book remains. The saga itself follows a vast array of characters, but the struggles of the family children of the noble house of Stark largely provide the main impetus of the overall tale.

To learn more about George R.R. Martin’s career both past and present, checkout his website for further details. A lot of both seasoned and unknown actors will take part in this HBO special, but both Martin and his screenwriters have stated that the filming will closely mirror the actual novels themselves in plot. Below I’ve listed Martin’s thoughts about Sean Bean starring in the TV series as Ned Stark:

“For the movie fans out there, Sean Bean needs no introduction. I mean, what the hell, he was Boromir and he was Sharpe, he was terrific in both roles, and in a hundred other parts besides. I can’t imagine a better Ned. The deal took some doing, so my fingers have been crossed for a month now (and boy, that made it hard to type), but now it’s done, and I’m thrilled.”

Bean has kept a feverish pace lately in the acting world, and will also supposedly star in the sequels to the new Percy Jackson movie. So you can imagine that getting this high a caliber actor for the TV series has drawn a lot of talent to the gathering cast. For further information on the filming you can also checkout one of the major George R.R. Martin fan blogs out there, Winter is Coming, as they have further details on the characters involved.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Praise for Ancient Musings

Meet Meghan Sullivan. She writes historical fiction and currently has a manuscript out on a book about the ancient Greek General Themistocles, which you can learn more about on her site Ancient Musings (also linked on the right-hand side of this blog). I met Meghan at this year’s San Francisco Writer’s Conference where I learned about her wonderful work as a rising historical fiction novelist. Below I have posted her synopsis and prologue writing sample from her website. Give it a read and if you find the story of Themistocles as riveting as I do, check out her blog for more.


When the world's largest empire threatens to invade his city-state, it is up to Themistocles to unite the factious people of Athens and save its fledgling democracy. To do so he will have to lie, cheat, steal, bribe and bully his way to the top of Athens’ fiercely competitive and fatal political game. Based on the real-life naval commander who led the Greeks to victory over the Persians 2,500 years ago, I recount the life of this extraordinary man through his own words.


They say poison makes for a good death.

Oh, not the kind that leaves you clawing at your throat like hemlock, or the kind that leaves you with that...Sardonic smile. No. A good poison should be something quick and painless. That is why Bull's Blood is perfect.

Why poison? To escape the trap my enemies have set for me. To go to a place where they cannot follow. It is my last act of defiance against them, one more clever ruse to ensure my place in the pantheon of heroes. And what better way to do so than to die a hero's death? After all, poison is what took the lives of Heracles, Achilles, and Odysseus.

Yet it would be a shame for me to leave this world without recording the events of my life. Doesn't a hero deserve to have his tale sung to eager ears? I cannot rely on the goodwill of my enemies to do so, of course. It is up to me to tell the tale. And so before I cross the river Styx, here it is, the story of Themistocles, as remembered by the hero himself.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Weekly Short-Story Contest: Envy

This week’s short-story contest winner is Stacy Grow! Her name was drawn from a hat amongst the other followers listed on this blog and inserted as the hero/heroine’s name in this week’s story. Continuing on my seven deadly sins theme for 40 days of short-stories during Lent, I’ve written this week’s tale on the topic of envy. You may also notice that my character does not use quotations when speaking, sometimes mixing first and third person narration. This is part of my ongoing interest in a form of writing known as free indirect speech (and other variants), which I have decided to experiment with in this latest endeavor. I will also have lots more exciting updates appearing in posts later this week. Enjoy the read and let me know your thoughts!


Murder in the opera house, Stacy thought to herself. How cliché. She bent down beside the deceased actress, frozen in the last moments of her death swoon. Stacy had spent nine years as a private consultant for the city’s police department. A funny sort of job for a librarian by trade. But her love of books was the reason the police chief always called her in on homicides like this one. Romantic cases, the chief termed such incidents. Well, Stacy was the expert on those.

   Kneeling on the stage before an empty house, she looked at the bloodstains. A knife lay in the corpse’s hands. Stabbed herself in front of a live audience in the middle of a performance. The actress had had a great voice. Pity, Stacy thought. Looked like suicide. Except for one tiny detail, a blow to the back of the head that had actually killed her. But who would bother to assassinate someone already in the act of suicide? And how had none of the twelve-hundred onlookers in their chairs not seen the killer?

   The police had yet to determine what kind of weapon had produced the death wound at the base of the skull. Probably a projectile, the sergeant onsite suggested. Hmm, Stacy frowned.

   She unfolded a pamphlet from that evening’s performance. The lead actress had starred in everything from Verdi to Mozart to Rousseau, and all by her mid-thirties. Two male leads in the show, each vying for her character’s love in the story, also turned out to be her real life lovers. One of whom, rumor said, she had stolen already from another woman. A common occurrence for her, often seducing a man just to spite another lady. Both men had only found out tonight of the dual treachery of their shared mistress. The police had the entire cast in custody backstage. A few other notable additions included a minor supporting role of the maid, played by the actress’ best friend and confidant from voice school, whose star had risen somewhat, but remained shadowed by her more talented soprano leading lady. Also the casting director and even the orchestra conductor loathed the former prima-donna whose love affairs and bossiness had led many of the cast to quit, costing them both valuable time and money. In short, a crowd rife with motive and opportunity.

   Stacy rose and paced the stage lights. Every suspect had been onstage or adjacent it during the murder. She had faced the audience. Two things puzzled Stacy. The timing of the murder and the nature of the actress’ wounds.

   Glancing at the program again Stacy’s eyes narrowed on the title of that evening’s opera. Il Travitori. Of course, she thought to herself. That’s it, all so simple. Il Travitori.

   Who played the gypsy queen? Stacy asked the sergeant on hand.

   Ms? He replied with wrinkled brows.

   In the opera tonight, she continued. Who portrayed the character of the gypsy mother in Il Travitori?

   The policeman shrugged.

   You don’t read much do you? She inquired.

   The sergeant shifted his hands in his pockets with a quiet frown.

   Notice something odd about the actress playing the gypsy’s part? She asked, holding up the program. The last name.

   The same, he said with surprise.

   That’s right, Stacy replied. Her mother. Guess being upstaged runs in the family.

   But how then? He began.

   Check her dressing room, Stacy explained. I believe her character has many piercing instruments in the story: dirk, dagger, pick possibly. Would’ve stood right behind her daughter during the particular scene involved.

   But the suicide…

   It’s a stage knife, actually blunt. She had no intent of committing suicide. Tapped in the head from behind, she probably fell on the knife, blunt though it looks, it still must have cut skin. But it didn’t matter; the death blow had already been struck. In truth, just a little sharp tap to the back of the head, a wound that bled on the inside.

   Why would her own mother do it? The Sergeant asked.

   Stacy turned and smiled.

   Watch the opera, sergeant, she replied, slowly turning to walk away.

   She hummed a few bars in Italian as she strode offstage, a tune of two women that share the same lover.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Why We Must Write…Why We Must Create

A professor of mine back in college once forewarned my class and I with this haunting phrase: What have you done with your life so far? In other words, what have you accomplished? It was a class on British Romantic literature and he mentioned that the famous poet John Keats had died at age 25. So he told us when you reach age 25 look at yourself in the mirror and ask yourself what you had done, because by this point in time every word of every poem by Keats had already been written. Examples like this extend beyond the realm of writing to anyone anywhere who creates art, music, film, dance, etc. Think of it, every Jimi Hendrix song you have ever listened to he had written and recorded before the age of 27.

Now as I age myself I find myself driven to answer this question, and have actually found comfort in the fact that each of us in our own way engages in the art of trying to lead a good life. The value of your efforts thus far in this crazy world cannot be measure in film credits or record sales. But the question still remains valid. Whether applied to your life as a sculptor, photographer, playwright, novelist, mother, husband, or friend. You may have heard that common saying, “don’t let your music die with you.” Well, as the week turns into the weekend and I begin another round of writing I thought I’d share this tidbit that has driven me, namely to express the things inside me. But what have you done today or will do tomorrow? What have you wished to write or play or do that you have put off for one reason or another? Don’t hold back. Scribble some notes on that poem, pickup the guitar, take your kids to the playground, or go call up that friend you haven’t spoken to in years. Life’s too short! When I think of all of those in this world that have come before us I think of all the great or not-so-great things they may have done, but now they are done. And you are not.

Below I have listed the ages of some artists off the top of my head who died or finished their most famous work before they turned 40. Now, don’t forget, just because many talented people lived short lives doesn’t mean you cannot do great things at any age. Lots of people found their own destinies when they got older. Gianni Versace didn’t start his famous clothing line until he was 40, Rodney Dangerfield’s comedy career didn’t even take off until he turned 50, and Winston Churchill didn’t lead Britain in its time of need during WWII until he reached his late sixties! So as you peruse the list beneath of artists who perished in or before their prime, remember nothing is written…just yet.


Arthur Rimbaud – age 21 (when he stopped writing)

John Keats – age 25

Wilfred Owen – age 25

Stephen Crane – age 28

Percy Bysshe Shelley – age 29

Christopher Marlowe – age 29

Silvia Plath – age 30

Emily Brontë – age 30

Lord Byron – age 36

Alexander Pushkin – age 37

Mary Wollstonecraft – age 38

Charlotte Brontë – age 38

Federico García Lorca – age 38


Richie Valens – age 17

Buddy Holly – age 22

Selena – age 23

Jimi Hendrix – age 27

Jim Morrison – age 27

Janis Joplin – age 27

Kurt Cobain – age 27

Stevie Ray Vaughan – age 35

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart – age 35

John Bonham (Led Zeppelin) – age 35

Martial Artists

Brandon Lee – age 28

Bruce Lee – age 32


River Phoenix – age 23

James Dean – age 24

Heath Ledger – age 28

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Suing Bloggers?

Viacom, the media industry monopoly that owns just about everything you see on TV has already sued and filed lawsuits against just about every online form of media competition posting TV clips you can imagine, even You-Tube. But lately a rumor going round the internet claimed that Viacom would try and sue bloggers for posting video clips from the Daily Show and the Colbert Report.

Fortunately, this wont be the case as Viacom has offered to not sue any bloggers anytime soon. You can read more about it here. Turns out someone reported the story incorrectly at first and it soon spread on the web like wildfire from there. So I figured, to celebrate this wonderful victory for free expression on the internet I’d post a few joyful links to the Daily Show and Colbert Report clips.

Also, completely unrelated, I’ve listed the single sentence story contest winner from submissions last week, over the weekend, and this week. Thanks to all of you for your great ideas and one-liners. Even though this single sentence contest only ran for one week please continue to send in your one sentence ideas for either opening or closing lines of our weekly mystery-name contests. Below is the winning single sentence story by Laurel.

The family quilt survived the fire but not the family’s terrier.

- Laurel Penrose

And now for more celebration of the awesomeness of Daily Show and Colbert

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Progress with Civil War Novel

Today I wanted to give you guys an update on my latest progress with my civil war novel, The Long Defeat. I’ve pitched the story to multiple literary agents both online and face-to-face at the San Francisco Writer’s Conference and have definitely generated interest. After reading my opening chapters several agents have asked to see more or all of the novel and have provided positive feedback. In addition, I’ve begun negotiating with professional editors as their expertise within the industry enables them not only to provide the usual grammatical corrections, but also tips and tricks that make a book more marketable and ultimately more sellable within the publishing industry.

Now don’t fret, I have no plans of endangering the conceptual integrity of my novel and many agents and editors love books too and don’t want to see creativity squashed for more corporate reasons. For those of you who have already read my manuscript of The Long Defeat your comments and support have really helped in polishing my novel. I have spent the last few weeks probably writing at least an additional 10,000 words to my novel just based on some of the great feedback I have received from many of you. That’s in addition to my daily posts to this blog during the week, and our weekly short-stories that I’ve posted every Monday. I’ve been busy to say the least.

For those of you who would like a copy of the manuscript or a few chapters to get a better gist of my historical antiwar fiction just send me an email. For a basic synopsis of the work check out one of my previous posts on The Long Defeat. The novel itself is inspired by actual historical events that I have researched, both in books and by visiting the actual battlefields. In addition, the hands-on experience I’ve received as a Civil War reenactor over the past year has proven equally invaluable in reconstructing this bygone era in my writing. Much thanks to the camaraderie and knowledge of my fellow reenactors. I’ll keep you posted on the progress of my efforts to publish this novel and the continuing momentum it has gained both on and off the web. In the meantime (grin), keep reading…

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Support Disaster Relief in Chile

Help the people of Chile. At the store yesterday I saw so many relief ads for Haiti, which I find truly wonderful and they definitely need continued support, but I think Chile has been overshadowed by all of the other worldwide disasters going on abroad. My sister, who has been living and teaching English in South America this past year, was just in Chile a week before the earthquake. Thankfully, she returned safely to Peru where she has worked. But many others have not been as fortunate. Although many more people have perished in other catastrophes, this 8.8 quake will still most probably be considered one of the top ten strongest earthquakes ever recorded on the Richter scale.

On television they showed footage of Santiago’s international airport completely wreaked, and aside from a few military and government flights there the entire terminal remains unable to get civilians in or out. Much of the county’s transportation infrastructure has completely, and in many places literally, collapsed. Bridges, roadways, and rail tracks. One reporter on TV explained that the devastation has reached so far across Chile that trips even from one city to the other have proven almost impossible. A normal car ride from the city of Concepción to the capital at Santiago would usually take about 3 hours, but now with so few roads left only a lucky few can manage the trip and they each have reported that it took them over 12 hours to make the once routine journey.

Even now Chile continues to receive multiple 5+ level aftershocks on the Richter scale. People don’t have food, or clean water, or even a safe place to sleep. You can look online for ways to help send relief to Chile in their time of need. Obviously, we’ve all got our own lives and difficulties to handle, but anything from money to food to prayers does make a difference. Thank you.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Second Mystery-Name Contest Winner: Greed in the City

Wow! Making a story out of another person’s hook sentence proved a lot harder that I thought, but I had a lot of fun trying it. This week’s mystery-name winner is Laurel Penrose! Like every week, I randomly selected a new name for the story hero from a hat filled with the names of the followers on this blog. In addition, the first sentence of this story comes from the creative mind of Michael Micheletti, who I might add is pretty good at coming up with some intriguing first lines. Although I adjusted his sentence somewhat I have attempted to make a short-story based on his suggestion. Although I wouldn’t call my little short any prize winner, I found it a truly fun challenge attempting to make another person’s idea fit into a relatively compact tale.

Continuing with my original theme from Mardi Gras, I’ve sought to concentrate on another one of those always intriguing seven deadly sins. This week I wrote about greed, hence the title. I wanted to try and work in a few other ideas too, but in an approximately 500 word-short art-form not all of my ideas would fit. Last week’s story I set in the small town of San Luis Obispo, and this week’s tale features the city of San Francisco. I tried to go for a more fun suspension of disbelief as several of the magazines and small presses I plan to send some of the better stories from this 40 day extravaganza of collective short-stories tend to prefer more thriller/mystery type scenes. We have several more weekly contests to go before Easter, so please keep sending me your ideas, and who knows it may end up in print…or at least online for everyone to read. Enjoy!

Greed in the City

Not until after Laurel had already left the office did she wonder why she’d need a can of oil, three roadside flares, and a pound of birdseed for her next assignment. But it did not matter. She had her mission.

     Laurel never met her clients nor did she care to. They left a suitcase full of money and instructions in an envelope. Always on the fifth floor of the abandoned construction tower downtown. Her so-called “office.” A pickpocket as a kid, she had spent two years in juvie. Then a couple of banks jobs for hire before freelancing on her own. She’d done the jewel heist in Union Square last year and hadn’t gotten caught. After that the clients started rolling in.

     But, just a simple break-in? The letter had an address in Pacific Heights, the richie neighborhoods, with instructions to enter the premises and cause some havoc…but not to actually steal anything? At first Laurel thought her client had made a mistake, but perhaps they just hired her to scare someone, she thought to herself. After all, lots of businessmen used various means of psychological persuasion with both friends and enemies. Okay, just break in; turn a few pieces of furniture over. Easy enough. But why the bizarre requirements? The oil, flares, and seed? Whatever. The pay is too good to pass up Laurel mused.

     She waited until after midnight before she scaled the concrete walls of the urban mansion. Just under the crest of a big hilltop, it had more stories and windows than Laurel cared to count. All decked out in black, she pried open a window on the ground level without her tools. Someone had actually left it unlocked. Their carelessness was her opportunity Laurel shrugged, toting her pack of accessories over one shoulder as she stepped inside.

     The first room looked like some kind of study. Laurel moved on, scoping out the interiors before anything else. Bedrooms, bathrooms, hallways, parlors, and kitchens, all full of belongings and appliances. Even some jewelry boxes and boudoirs. But no people. Not even a single security camera from the garden gate to the garage.

     She paused, eyeing a portrait above the mantelpiece in one of the living rooms. An older man, bald and stern. Suddenly, she recalled the jewel heist last year, the golf ball sized diamond from that old miser’s store. A wealthy animal collector to boot. Laurel quickly peered at the inscription beneath the portrait. It was him. Twinkling on the mantle rested the blue diamond.

     Laurel picked it up. It couldn’t be! She’d pawned it on the black market, and laid low for six months. The cops never caught on. The old man couldn’t have gone and bought back his own diamond. Why would he?

     Just then something purred in a deep bass striation of heavy breaths.

     Laurel turned round, blinking twice, unable to fathom the sharp fangs and striped coat stalking through the shadows of the empty mansion towards her. A Siberian tiger. Not like a stuffed animal or a cartoon, or anything else. A real national geographic, 300 pound tiger. Cornered between the portrait and the predator, Laurel reached into her pack and withdrew the flares and oil, accidentally ripping open the bag of bird seed. It smelled of sulfur. She realized the pebbles and pellets weren’t bird food at all, but fertilizer, sulfates, and powder. A homemade fire-starter kit. Some birdseed.

     Unafraid, the tiger let out a baritone growl, drawing closer and closer.

     She could see it now. They’d find her body tomorrow, the cops would see the oil, flares, the starter kit, and label it in the papers as attempted arson. Nothing would connect her to the portrait of the man behind her.

     “Nice, kitty,” she softly crooned, snapping open a flare, her last desperate hope.

     The tiger paused.