Thursday, September 30, 2004


From reader mail: Were you really in the military?

Yep. Step with me and Sherman into the way-back machine, and set the controls to jump back in time 26 years . . .

18 years old, fresh out of basic training. This was my first leave at home, and the lady with her arm around me is my grandmother. Gran died a few months later. The white blur around her was probably a reflection, but still a bit spooky.

The tall guy with the bushy late 70's hair is now a very distinguished retired AF major with a gray-templed crew cut and a passle of kids.

Saturday, September 25, 2004


I read an article about Stephen King's final volume in the Dark Tower series. He's been working on Dark Tower since he was 22 and it is what he calls the world's longest serial novel.

In reality, the record for the longest work of modern fiction is comfortably held by "To-kugawa leyasu" written by Sohachi Yamaoka. To surpass Yamaoka, King would have to write thirty-four more books.

I have my own magnum opus, which I will write in its entirety before I submit it for publication. Will it be seven volumes, or forty? Don't know. It will be as long as the story needs it to be, as every book I write is.

In writing, size only matters when you write for hire, or you go into production and your publisher decides your book is too long to be published profitably. Writing for hire means you write to the publisher's size specifications, and this is harder than it sounds, particularly if your comfort zone is 100K and you're writing 72K on demand. Publishers are now following an unpleasant trend of splitting up long novels into separate volumes, something I'm completely against.

There are writers who think that bigger = better, and if you can't figure out the Freud behind that one, you should toddle back to the convent.

Many aspiring writers believe the more they write, the better writer they become. Practicing your craft is always a great thing, so I don't argue with this philosophy. Just remember that writing a million words a year doesn't automatically entitle you to be published. Nothing does but the quality of your work, and if you're sacrificing quality for quantity, you're doomed to remain unpublished.

Friday, September 24, 2004

Strange Days

Professionally and personally I'm in a strange place at the moment. Not strange-unknown, but strange-unplanned. Because I'm a control freak as well as an obsessive-compulsive organizer, I generally plan and replan and double-check the plan and slap a copy of the plan on the fridge. We're talking daily, sometimes hourly basis. Since last year I've been trying to break out of that hamster wheel portion of my personality and be spontaneous in certain areas, with varying results.

Professionally I have branched out and am now in two foreign genre territories. I'm taking risks and investing in myself heavily in one. I try not to think about the what-ifs involved in this too much or I'd never do it. It's a tight rope walk but not too high off the ground. I'll get banged up pretty good if I fall, but I've got insurance tucked away in a couple of spots. My career is a web now, so I never depend on just one thing.

Personally I have made a 360 degree flip -- one I swore I never would -- and am reinvesting myself in what will likely be called the only successful romantic relationship in my life. Much more cautious here, since there's another person and plenty of baggage and mucho uncontrollable factors involved. Love is a roulette wheel that never stops spinning until you cash in.

Not planning any of this, and trying not to drag it back into my hamster wheel, takes a lot of effort.

Novels are like careers and lovers. You can plan them out, as I do, very meticulously, but it's never 100% guaranteed. Plots dry up, characters turn into cardboard and pacing and flow high tail it out of town, carjacking your enthusiasm in the process.

I have one right now, a real barn-burner of a book, that is sitting at 70K words. I can't wait to write the rest of it, but it has to wait because it hasn't sold yet. This is just the way it is when you write for a living: paid work first, fun later.

Meanwhile, I'm plodding through another novel someone else thought would be a good idea for me to write, and fighting to get the words down. One pissed-off portion of my head that wants to write the rest of my barn-burner regularly spikes me with great new ideas.

Of the two, I'll be happier writing the barn-burner, but prouder of the plodder when it's finished. If I do my job right, you won't be able to tell the difference between them.