Tag Archives: writing


Welcome, 2015. How fresh and clean you are! How full of potential energy.

Now, let’s get to work.

Today I start editing my third novel, working title: Little House on the Highway.

It’s about some folks living the good life in a “small house” in a beautiful field on the side of the road in Louisiana. Or at least that’s how the book starts.

Then there’s robbery, kidnapping, murder, and mayhem.

You in?

I hope so, because to create a bunch of words on paper is hard, but almost anyone can do it.

To create a compelling story with characters you care about. That’s damn near impossible.

Join me as I attempt the impossible. From what I understand, that takes a bit more time.

I’ll post excerpts and edits as I go along, and I will be asking for your help in finalizing characters, scenes, even the overall story arc.

Now, I may not take your advice (how many artists do?), but then again, I just might. And that will result in a much better book.

Stay tuned, MUCH more to come in the weeks and months ahead as I rework this first draft into a story worth publishing.


The WritingMime talks to her audience about having seen Carl Plumer and listening to his advice on how to write a book and how it wasn't a complete waste of time!

The WritingMime talks to her audience about having seen Carl Plumer and listening to his advice on how to write a book and how it wasn't a complete waste of time!

Well, at a recent convention here in town, I got a chance to talk about how to write a novel to an eager group of students of all ages.

It was the most dang fun I have had in a long time.

Seems like every time I meet someone knew they guess my profession as professor. They’re disappointed when I tell them I’m not. Maybe one day, though. (Are you listening, prestigious higher education-type schools around the world?) I know I’d enjoy that.

It was a real trip. The “teaching” was more me listening, getting asked questions, and trying to respond is as helpful a way as I could. I learned a lot! (I can’t say for sure if anyone else did.)

So, I was on a quest for info on the net (I couldn’t remember the name of my panel actually, and was hoping someone else did). I came across the video above wherein the presenter, an up-and-coming author of some brilliance, mentioned that she attended my talk about how to write a novel.

I was gobsmacked, dumbfounded, and stupified.

Someone who saw me talking about how to write a novel (and really, how to distribute it, sell it, and all that other stuff) actually went online to say something about it.


You can watch it here (thanks for the shout-out, WritingMime!)



RT @OliviaLiendo: When someone asked Ernest Hemingway how to write a novel, his response was “First you defrost the refrigerator” http://t.…
Us, editing together
Us, editing together

Many of you have no idea what it takes to write a novel and get it out there. Well, here’s a glimpse at the process.

The process goes something like this: First, the writer gets inspired, and then the writer writes something. Next, what the writer wrote must be edited five million times. The first three million by the writer; the next million and a half by professional editors. After that, come the beta readers, the kind souls who are reading not for glory or for money, but because they just want to help.

Above is a photomontage of my wife, Kristen, reading through my manuscript which goes to the proofreader in less than a week. (You can see how hard I am working…) For some reason, I have photo-bombed every single shot! Yay me!

So, that’s your glimpse into the world of the author for this week. Are you SURE you want to be a writer? It’s hard work! Think twice!!

Get ready for How to Save a World From Dying, due everywhere (and by everywhere, I mean amazon.com), August 22, 2013!

UPDATE! It’s available NOW!

Confused by Zombie Words: Image courtesy CollegeDegrees360 via Flickr

I came across an interesting article on the NYT about something called “zombie nouns.” Now these are not nouns that have risen from the dead, but nouns that eat up other nouns until all sense, clarity, and communication is lost. So, the perfect topic for me: zombies and words! Here’s an excerpt from the article:

 Take an adjective (implacable) or a verb (calibrate) or even another noun (crony) and add a suffix like ity, tion or ism. You’ve created a new noun: implacability, calibration, cronyism. Sounds impressive, right?

Nouns formed from other parts of speech are called nominalizations. Academics love them; so do lawyers, bureaucrats and business writers. I call them “zombie nouns” because they cannibalize active verbs, suck the lifeblood from adjectives and substitute abstract entities for human beings:

The proliferation of nominalizations in a discursive formation may be an indication of a tendency toward pomposity and abstraction.

The sentence above contains no fewer than seven nominalizations, each formed from a verb or an adjective. Yet it fails to tell us who is doing what. When we eliminate or reanimate most of the zombie nouns (tendency becomes tend, abstraction becomes abstract) and add a human subject and some active verbs, the sentence springs back to life:

Writers who overload their sentences with nominalizations tend to sound pompous and abstract.

Only one zombie noun – the key word nominalizations – has been allowed to remain standing.

At their best, nominalizations help us express complex ideas: perception, intelligence, epistemology. At their worst, they impede clear communication. I have seen academic colleagues become so enchanted by zombie nouns like heteronormativity and interpellation that they forget how ordinary people speak. Their students, in turn, absorb the dangerous message that people who use big words are smarter – or at least appear to be – than those who don’t.

The writer goes on to say:

To get a feeling for how zombie nouns work, release a few of them into a sentence and watch them sap all of its life. George Orwell played this game in his essay “Politics and the English Language,” contrasting a well-known verse from Ecclesiastes with his own satirical translation:

I returned and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.

Here it is in modern English:

Objective considerations of contemporary phenomena compel the conclusion that success or failure in competitive activities exhibits no tendency to be commensurate with innate capacity, but that a considerable element of the unpredictable must invariably be taken into account.

The Bible passage speaks to our senses and emotions with concrete nouns (sun, bread), descriptions of people (the swift, the wise, men of understanding, men of skill) and punchy abstract nouns (race, battle, riches, time, chance). Orwell’s “modern English” version, by contrast, is teeming with nominalizations (considerations, conclusion, activities, tendency, capacity, unpredictable) and other vague abstractions (phenomena, success, failure, element). The zombies have taken over, and the humans have fled the village.

Read more on the subject at http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/07/23/zombie-nouns/

I love cliches! Creative Commons License: http://www.flickr.com/photos/astama/3534657697/in/photostream/

As writers, we are told to avoid cliches like the plague. Cliches, we are told, have no place in our poetry or prose. We should strive to forever forge new metaphors in the fire of our imagination. Cliches don’t work, they’re tired, they elicit no response from the user.


Well, to that I say, Poppycock. Cliches are our language. We have hundreds of years of cliches, idioms, bromides, local sayings. They fill up volumes[1. Like this one: McGraw-Hill’s Dictionary of American Idioms]. Studies have been done on them. The do have value because they define us as a people, regardless of the culture we’re in. Cliches are comfortable, they help us recognize each other. New cliches are created every day, with each new expression that comes out of the business world, sports, and especially the hip-hop culture. Today’s cutting edge paradigm is tomorrow’s jiggy cliche. Yes, I know the previous sentence was not an illustration of cliches. I wanted to simply illustrate that words, regardless of their origin,  are original at some point, regardless of how we treat them over time. Groovy? Groovy.

What’s old is new again

But cliches do belong in our writing, our latest stories. I know a 100,000 writers just gasped out loud, 10,000 writing teachers are aghast or fainting, and 1,000 agents just noted in their file, “note: don’t touch Plumer’s queries with a ten foot pole.” But I know this is true: cliches help us define our characters and situations. It’s how we speak. If a character exclaims, “Holy crap, what a surprise!” we know them differently than if they had said, “Well, you can knock me over with a feather.”

What’s past is prologue

Mark Twain was a brilliant writer who originated new terms, new expression, and was ahead of his time by at least a hundred years. But even the great one used cliches, the sayings of his time. (In Tom Sawyer, Aunt Polly says, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” Fits her, fits the story.)  So too with Shakespeare, who invented so many of the words and expressions we use today. In fact, every time we write or say common cliches such as, “a fool’s paradise,” “dead as a doornail,” or “too much of a good thing,” we are quoting Shakespeare![2. Even the title of this section is Shakespeare’s, from The Tempest.]

I don’t believe cliches make our writing bad any more than brilliant new metaphors make our writing good. It’s only in their use and application. Does the cliche work, does it serve a purpose? Then use it. Does your shiny new metaphor detract from the story?  Will every reader stop and think, “My, that’s a clever turn of phrase”? Then don’t. Lazy writing is lazy writing. Write with purpose, cliches and all.

What do you think, am I making a mountain out of a mole hill?[3. Or might there just be some gold in them there hills?] Comment below!

Following up on my previous post, America’s Got Writing Talent!, I wanted to share one of my favorite videos on the subject.[1. Actually, I only have this one…] It nails just about every idiot idea that every writer “wannabe” has spouted in their quest of wealth and fame through their disrespect of the art, craft, and science of writing.[2. It’s not obvious from my description, but the video is funny. Really.] Enjoy!


Cover of Mystery Novels Magazine, for writers and readers, Winter issue, 1933

Hey, I don’t want to quash anyone’s dreams, far from it. But I have a bit of a rant here for all of you indulging in creative writing. Here goes…

Writing 101

There’s an “i can write/you can write”[1. In other words, “i’m okay/you’re okay”] squishy love fest happening across the web that I’m having a hard time swallowing. Everybody and his drunken aunt has decided that, have keyboard, can write! Look at me: I can type the little letters and when I’m done I HAVE A NOVEL! Writing doesn’t work that way. Sorry for the letdown. Lots of people, from my last count about 1.2 billion of them, are all writing and encouraging each other to stick to it! You can do it! Writing is for everyone! And I mean EVERYONE!

Yeah, but:

What happened to talent?

Used to be, if you wanted to be a writer, you had to, well, be good at it. Just like anything else. Being a dancer, being an artist, being a musician, being an athlete. Hell, if some fat, out of breath 70 year old says his dream has always been to quarterback for the Giants, are we supposed to get all warm and fuzzy and say, “Yeah, you can do it! It’s your dream! Go for it!”

Not to rain on anyone’s parade, but you shouldn’t go for it.

And it’s not just about talent. It’s about the craft. The study of writing, technique, rules of grammar. And editing until your fingers bleed. Writing is hard work. It’s not for the squeamish or the flighty or those not dedicated.

People have always “indulged” in their whims, to be a musician or artist or writer. Most were dilettantes. Dabblers. Not worthy.

Not that they didn’t WANT it. Of course they did. The writing? Not so much. The fame? Yeah, baby!

Writing the Great American Novel

Lana Turner, around 1940The problem with the dream of writing the “Great American Novel”  is that it used to be everyone’s dream. That’s DREAM, not reality. No one actually did anything about it.[2. It was a dream, get it?] Dreams like one day being in a rock band. Or finding buried treasure. Or being discovered like Lana Turner was, sipping a Coke-a-Cola at the local diner.

These days, with the interweb, self-pubbing, and everyone with a computer and an ego, people are under the impression that what the world needs now is one more novel. Theirs.

Well, you might want to sit down. The world doesn’t “need” your novel. Heck, I can’t even read the books I should be reading: Faulkner, Dickens, Dosteovsky, Hemingway. Let alone all the great published authors of today. Not enough hours in the day, not even on those days when I’m awake for all 24 of them, Jack Bauer-style.

Am I saying you shouldn’t write?  Not at all. Hell, I write and I’m pa-RITTY sure I suck at it as much as the next guy. Am I saying you shouldn’t dream? HELL NO! But I do have a tip for the 99% of all of us typing away on our Macbooks all night long at every Starbucks and Panera in America. And this is it:

Novel Writing Tip #3,716

So here’s my novel writing tip: Stop with thinking that you can make a living at it. About how writing your little novel will make you famous, wealthy, attractive, desired. About how you’re gonna WOW them on Letterman.

Yes, you can go ahead and write. Write ’til your eyeballs explode. People have done it for centuries[3. Write that is, not having their eyeballs explode.] in journals, diaries, and letters. Write for the love of writing, if that’s what you feel you must do. Don’t do it for publication’s sake[4. Although I wish you all the best.], do it for your soul’s sake.

But, please, just don’t fool yourself. And everyone else: stop fooling each other with over-enthusiastic encouragement.

Be encouraging, yes. Be loving.

Just don’t be dishonest.

Feckless Gremlin

Just a quick note to say that my short piece about what makes horror good (and what makes good horror) is now up at the Feckless Goblin. If you don’t know about FG, you should. It’s loaded with thoughtful articles about writing and horror and is a great place to learn about both. The site has a lively community, too, so head on over and join the discussion.

My article/guest posting is currently on the front page but will no doubt have moved but the time you read this, so here’s the direct link:  Great Horror Must Not Be Horrible. Would love to hear what you have to say about horror in general and horror movies in particular, and of course whether you agree or disagree with me, and why.