Sunday, May 30, 2010


Hi folks,

I follow a lot of blogs, especially writer's, agent's and editor's blogs as many are loaded with good advice for writers. Today, I read an especially good one from uber-agent Chip MacGregor's blog that I thought I'd point out. He has a guest on his blog today, Rob Eager, the President of Wildfire Marketing, who makes some interesting points about social networking for writers that I thought was eye-opening. You can read it by either clicking on Chip's blog on my blog and weblist, or go directly to it here at: 

He raises some intriguing questions about Facebook and blogs, et al.

Hope everyone has a wonderful Memorial Day!

Blue skies,

Me, in my salad days, with my daughter Britney. With more hair than Grizzly Adams...

Thursday, May 27, 2010


©Leslie H. Edgerton

 Hi folks,
Thought it was time for some "writer" stuff.

Short stories originate from many sources. Sometimes they evolve from a character, something he or she says or does. A scrap of conversation overheard. Sometimes from playing the game “what if,” where the writer takes a situation she is familiar with and asks herself “what if” the incident took a different turn. Other times a word will be the seed that leads to a completed story. My first novel began in such a way, with the word spatterdashers. I saw the word used in a Paris Review interview and became intrigued with it, eventually using it for a metaphor throughout the book. Originally, it was the title although the publisher changed it for publication to The Death of Tarpons. Actually, we had a bit of an argument over this. She claimed that she didn’t know what the word meant until I explained it (it was the original form of the word that’s been shortened over the years from usage to “spats” meaning an article of clothing men wore to “prevent spatter from dashing their trousers.”). I (reluctantly) agreed, and then, shortly after my novel came out, another novel came out titled Palimpsest by Gore Vidal. She pointed out that he was Gore Vidal… and I wasn’t… and I refrained from mentioning that as an editor she should have known what that term meant and she didn’t. She won, I lost… Some stories are almost exact representations of an actual event, changed only slightly to meet the requirements of fiction writing. There are many more sources for story ideas, almost as many as there are stories! Ideas are everywhere; indeed, the problem with most of us is insufficient time to develop all the story ideas rattling around in our brain pans!

Choose your story premise carefully, making it one you will feel comfortable staying the course with until the short story or novel is completed.

A premise is a simple thing, but the tool by which most good stories are created. As author James Frey explains in his text, How to Write a Damn Good Novel, II,A premise is a statement of what happens to the characters as a result of the actions of the story. That’s it, nothing more. It isn’t the plot. The plot is basically the causal actions of the story. In the premise is included, as Lajos Egri says in The Art of Dramatic Writing, “character, conflict and conclusion

First let’s look at what a premise isn’t. It isn’t a moral. It isn’t stated as something like “Obey the Ten Commandments or Else!”. It isn’t a theme. A theme is a recurring fictional idea, expressed as things like “true love,” “duty to country,” stuff like that. A wonderful example of a premise, on the other hand, is the one expressed in the well-known story of The Three Little Pigs. That story’s premise could be stated as: Foolishness leads to death and wisdom leads to happiness. That’s it. By the way, most of these examples are taken from James Frey’s book, an excellent guide for writers. He gives another great example of a premise in the Bible story of Samson and Delilah--the premise of that tale being that Repentance leads to a glorious death. As Frey explains, the Samson story’s premise is really stating that: God’s love leads to great strength, which leads to heroism in battle, which leads to haughtiness and arrogance, which leads to temptations of the flesh, which leads to betrayal, which leads to defeat and disgrace and blindness, which lead to repentance, which leads to a restoration of superpowers, which leads to a glorious death. The premise, as stated above as “Repentance leads to a glorious death,” is just a shorthand way of saying all of that. A premise says that through a causal chain of events, one situation will lead to another and will eventually lead to a resolution. It’s merely a way of saying what the chain of events is that leads the character(s) through conflict to the conclusion. Keep in mind that a premise should be about a single aspect of human life, not multiple aspects. A short story doesn’t allow enough room for more than one aspect ordinarily.

The great thing about developing a premise early on in a story’s creation, is that you now have a frame to build your story on. Another nice thing is that if you have a premise, you can create a story out of nothing more than that. You have a roadmap to follow and when your mind takes side trips you can easily steer it back onto the main highway. Premise is one of the most powerful tools you have in your writer’s toolbox. A premise also is a useful tool once you begin editing your story. Anything that doesn’t follow the premise should be cut.

Many times, writers will argue that the way they like to write is to create a character and then let them go. Let the characters write the story. The only problem with this is that many, many times the characters won’t write a very good story. They’re drifting, rudderless. You might end up with a good story using this method, but the odds are against it. Again, there is always the exception that proves the rule. I have to confess that when I write stories, in my beginning draft, there are times when I don’t have a clearly defined premise. But...when I sit down to begin rewrites I always have one, developed from what I’d written in my first draft. And, on those occasions when I don’t have a premise, I struggle more than any other time. Once I have a premise, I can begin easily to whack out the irrelevant portions, and begin to create what Flannery O’Connor called the “unified effect”. This is the one element all great stories have in common, and it is best achieved by guiding your story by the North Star called Premise.

There are three kinds of premises. Chain reaction, opposing forces, and situational. Chain reaction premises are the easiest to understand. You have a character, something happens to him that sets off something else and so on, leading to a climax and resolution. Many of Raymond Carver’s short stories have chain reaction premises. Opposing forces premises are where two forces are set against each other and one wins. Good examples of these kinds of stories are many of Shakespeare’s plays, such as Romeo and Juliet and Robert Benchley’s Jaws. The final kind, situational, describes the kind of story in which a particular situation affects the character(s). Stephen Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage illustrates a situational kind of premise - a coward finds himself in the army during a time of war and strives to overcome his cowardice.

Another mistake many writers (including this one) make, is confusing an amusing or interesting anecdote for a story. If you apply the theory of premise to this kind of material, it becomes clear instantly that what you have is not a story at all, not in the sense that we regard stories. (Especially publishable ones!)

Let’s look at some examples of how to develop a premise from your story. Let’s say you have a protagonist named Mary who is an alcoholic. She has recently hit her “bottom” and realizes she needs help in overcoming her problem. She begins attending A.A. meetings and gets involved in a 12-step program. Things go along fairly smoothly until she meets a guy (Emory) at one of the meetings, becomes sexually interested in him and he asks her to go to a bar with him. Not to drink, he injects; just to talk and get out of the “institutional atmosphere” of the A.A. meeting. (The meetings are held in a hospital). While there, he confesses he’s a musician and has just signed a contract with a big recording company, but he feels he’s a charlatan in accepting their money; what they heard him play was technically perfect, but he was sober at the time and his music held no “soul”. His conflict is that he wants more to be a “real” musician, i.e., one with “soul” than one who is commercially successful. Therefore, he has just decided at that very moment to fall off the wagon and begin drinking. Mary, a musician herself, sees a kindred soul in Eddie, and goes home to wrestle with her own demon. Should she make the same decision as Emory, or is it more important to save her health and life? In the end, she sits in her apartment, staring at a tumblerful of whiskey she has poured. We don’t know if she will drink it or not, but we feel she will, from the way it is set up. What is the premise of this story? It could be stated this way: “Someone with a fatal weakness may fall prey to that weakness if she associates with those who cannot control their own failings, especially if they are similar in makeup.” By the way, the above is based on a short story in my collection, titled "My Idea of a Nice Thing."

Remember too, that a premise isn’t a “moral” and shouldn’t be stated as such.

Does this give you a better idea how to “see” the premise in a story? If you still have difficulty in determining the premise of your story, read Chapter Four of Frey’s book if you like. It’s on my list of writing books on this site should you wish a convenient way to order it.

Here’s a real-life analogy that may help, also. I was a hairdresser (my “day” job) for almost thirty years and my wife and I frequently had to train new stylists we'd hired. Cosmetology schools, in general, don’t do much in the way of teaching hair-cutting theory. The haircutting portion of their education usually consisted of teaching the “steps” in three or four haircuts. They are taught to follow steps 1 through 10 to achieve the cut they are learning, whether it be a version of a “layer” cut, a one-length cut or whatever. They are learning what we call “cookie-cutter” haircutting. Unless they pick up haircutting theories on their own--which some do--they are the ones we call the “born” haircutter--most of them have little but a faint idea of how the structure of the haircut provides the finished look. They don’t realize, in the main, that every haircut in the world is achieved from the various angles the hair is held and cut at. What we did in our salon is to try and teach an understanding of haircutting angles and their result when performed on various types of hair. Rather, we provided a system in which the stylist teaches herself. We asked each beginning stylist to pick out ten styles a week in a fashion magazine and to diagram the angles used to achieve that style. In other words, we asked them to articulate the “premise” for that hairstyle. Very quickly, the stylist began to understand the structure and in short order could then cut any style she sees or visualizes. She became an artist, not merely a cookie-cutter automation. This is different from many hairstylists, who progress by adding to their repertoire by learning the “steps” in each style. For instance, such a stylist, if she has lasted long enough in the trade, begins to put “Cut #13” on this person, “Cut #6B” on another client. Such a stylist has learned the mechanical steps required for a variety of cuts, but hasn’t a clue as to how these steps came about. She’s not an artist yet, and if she continues her haircutting education in this manner probably never will. (I think a lot of architects and other "design folk" fall into this category!) She can put out a serviceable style on most folks, but will never become an innovator, creating styles of her own. On the other hand, the stylist who actually learns the theory of angles and observes what cutting various types of hair at different angles achieves, is on her way to becoming a successful stylist. Once she is well-versed in angle theory, she can then begin to experiment with angles, thereby creating unique styles, at which point she can begin realistically planning nice vacations and deciding which toney restaurant she wants to dine in that evening.

Story writing is much the same process. There are many who perfect the craft of writing stories, but their product is bland and insipid and doesn’t breathe the life of greatness. In fact, the only reason their stories make it into print occasionally, is that they are technically perfect. It is a fact of reality that the way many editors select stories to be published is that they go through the stack of manuscripts awaiting them and look for reasons to reject them. This list can consist of dozens of things, from improper submission format, failure to enclose an SASE, to a misspelled word or the improper change of point of view of the narrator. When this kind of editor happens upon a manuscript that is technically “perfect”, i.e., all of the “rules” have been followed, sometimes this is the story they select. If your aim is merely to get published, learn all of the so-called rules and once in awhile you’ll see a story of yours get into print. However, if your aim is not only being published but in the creation of memorable stories, learning how to develop a premise will be of great value to you. Once you understand the concept of a premise and use it diligently in your work, you will begin to achieve what Flannery O’Connor called “a unified effect” and your work will begin to assume the kind of power all truly great stories have in common.

Harking back to the example of the beginning hairdresser asked to diagram hairstyle angles, here’s an exercise that you can use to sharpen your own skills at developing premises. From now on, whenever you finish reading a short story or a novel, write down what you believe to be its premise. Once you’ve done that a few times, you’ll be surprised at how easy it is to do and you’ll find it remarkably easy to apply premises to your own work. In fact, it will become impossible to read a story thereafter without seeing its premise (or lack of one!). At first, don’t be too critical that you’ve gotten it exactly right. With but a little practice, you’ll begin to zero in on what the author intended, quicker in better stories. In fact, I’ll make a little bet, in that when you start to look for the premise in stories, the fiction you’ve judged as not that good are the stories that have a fuzzy premise or that wander from it. In quality stories, the premise is usually sharp and in focus. That’s because that writer understands the power of this tool and everything in her story that doesn’t contribute to the premise of the story ends up on the cutting room floor where it belongs.

And plot? How does plot figure into this? Well, all plot is, is a summary of activity within the story. This happens, which causes this to happen, which causes this to...and so on. My own opinion of plot is that it’s hugely overrated. There are supposedly only five (six? seven?) plots in existance and it would be difficult to find more than that. You can use plot to discover your premise by simply loosely outlining what is going to happen in the story. For example: Protagonist comes to realization she’s got a drinking problem, goes to AA meeting, meets another alcoholic who’s a musician like herself, witnesses him fall off the wagon to achieve his art, comes to a crossroad herself by pondering his example. That’s a pretty basic plot and the one I used in the aforementioned story. The premise, I’ve already stated. The problem with plot is that other ideas occur as you’re writing your story and pretty soon you’ve taken a side road away from your original plot and end up abandoning the story. If you’ve developed a premise and a detour presents itself, so long as you don’t vary from the premise the story will complete itself. Some of this I have to ask you to take on faith. As the old joke goes - “Trust me!”

Try to develop a premise for your story in one or two sentences or a paragraph. If you have already come up with a complete story idea, this shouldn’t be too hard, and if you haven’t, it may be even easier. Develop a premise on an idea that intrigues you, one that contains all the ingredients--character, conflict, and conclusion. Perhaps you’ve always been interested in the effect of opposites in relationships. Your premise might be “Given a potentially threatening personal disaster, a conservative husband takes the part of his liberal-thinking wife and makes an uncharacteristic decision, one that is personally harmful to his ego, but which proves his love for his wife.” Can you see the possibilities that articulating a premise gives a writer? You could further edit this premise down to something like, “To achieve true love, a man (or woman) has to suffer, as well as overcome personal biases.”

Once you have a premise, writing the story becomes much easier and will stay on track to its final destination.

Hope this helps!

Blue skies,
This is me, cutting my daughter Britney's hair. She's in her thirties now, so this was a few years ago. I think around '71 or '72. And, for those of you who know me, you'll notice that I have hair. My shaved head is a choice, not genetics... I'm using those "angles" I talked about above...   

Sunday, May 23, 2010



At last, I have been granted permission to reveal the biggest secret in writing! I’m soooooo excited! This material was published a few years ago, but the government seized it and deemed it classified material and restricted it to a rare few who possessed the proper clearance, which is “Over the Top, Pinky-Swear, In the Stratosphere Top, Top, Really-Top Secret.” Only lit professors who specialize in the works of Samuel Richardson and in particular, his novel, Pamela, or, Virtue Rewarded, have been deemed to have the proper clearance and credentials to view this revealing document. Even then, they have to demonstrate they know the gang signal and the secret handshake to gain access to it.

I had to petition the government under the Freedom of Information Act for its release, and it was only because I did the smart thing of hand-delivering my appeal on a Sunday, when all of the bureaucrats were out of the office, attending the annual Capitol Office Worker’s Bingo and Lobbyist’s Picnic, held on the pastoral grounds of the Watergate Hotel, and luckily, a janitor was there, dusting their awards for going over budget, and I was able to convince him to locate the necessary rubber stamp.

For those writers who have read all the writer’s how-tos, attended all the writer’s conferences, logged onto all the boring writer’s blogs (except this one, natch!), and all the agent’s blogs and websites, in hopes of discovering the secret to publication—this is the only source you’ll ever need to learn the inside secret of getting your book published. What follows is the document, with a few spots marked out as per the government’s usual deletion of especially sensitive material, still considered classified.

This is dedicated to you!

Without further ado, I present:


There are only three rules to guaranteeing your opus will get published. They are:

1. You should always we,vieonmnsormemitl and then kkkkkkkkkkkkk as well as (of course!) use

Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm to llllllllllllllllllllllllllll your manuscript. This secret alone will

guarantee publication!

2. Ask kkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkk for the llllllllllllllllllllllllll which, as you can readily see, will

insure publication!

3. And, finally… and most important, always kkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkk to gain pppppppppppppp and grant you lllllllllllllllllll and to iiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii and prevent ooooooooooooooooo from mmmmmmmmmmmmmmm as well as iiiiiiiiiii as that may cause lllllllllllllllll and ,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,, to wreck mmmmm. And, don’t neglect to mmmmmmmmmmmmm ;;;;;;;;;;;;;; and jjjjjjjjjjjjj for obvious reasons!

And, there you have it!
I’ll be looking for you on the shelves of Borders!
Blue skies,
Les Edgerton

Waiting room for the Office of Information. Looks like another busy day!



Many people have met me and then met my wife Mary and the reaction is always the same.

What th’?

I understand. They wonder what an ugly guy like me sees in a beautiful woman like her. We’re kind of the “Lyle Lovett-Julia Roberts” of our set. I’ve tried to figure it out myself and the best I can come up with is… a case of extreme nearsightedness on her part.

It’s like how we met. We were both sitting there, minding our beeswax, in the reception area of the Witness Protection Program office, sitting on their plush faux-Corinthian leather couch. Waiting to be called in to get our new identities and we struck up a conversation. Just idle chit-chat, like where are you from, what’s your major, what was your crime, what’s your sign.

I never did find out exactly what Mary had done to earn entrance into this prestigious program, but I know it had something to do with large numbers of sheep and Black & Decker power tools. Once I knew that much, I decided not to press her for details. She might have told me.

All I know is she never wears wool.

The only other clue I have to her past existence is that whenever we go to church, she has to find a seat with her back to a wall. I do the same thing in bars, so it gives me a pretty good idea what kind of environment she came from.

I think what attracted her to me was my sense of humor.

Like the time we moved into a new neighborhood and I told all the neighborhood kids that Mary had been in a horrible, disfiguring accident and as a result she had a steel plate in her head, a wooden leg, and a glass eye. “No!” they said, about the glass eye, and then I bet them that if they could guess which eye was the fake one, I’d give them a dollar. “She’s been bugging me for a new one,” I told them, “but those suckers cost about eight grand. I don’t think anyone can tell it’s glass.”

“We can’t drive near junkyards,” I also informed them. “Because of that darned steel plate in her head. Those big magnets they have will just suck her out of the car window. Fwoop! and she’s gone.”

After I challenged them to figure out which was her glass eye, all of them came back and told me it was the left eye and I kept my word and paid them each a buck. A few minutes later, I heard a loud shriek and saw Mary crumple to the ground on the far side of the yard. Turns out one of the little rascals believed me about her wooden leg and decided to check it out for himself and had launched his field goal kicking technique on it. “Wrong one,” I told him, and: “If you like those pricey chicklets in your mouth you better run for home. She gets up, you’ll be sucking your steak out of a straw.” The wannabe-football player ran away on sturdy eight-year-old legs, yelling for his mama. After Mary calmed down and rubbed the cleat marks on her non-wooden leg, she saw the humor in it, and she was even laughing out loud when she told me I’d be allowed to spend the night on the couch and not have to go to a motel. “Don’t even try to sneak upstairs,” she said. “I’ve put my gun under my pillow with a full clip and one in the chamber.” She’s a riot!

Good times!

Or, the time we went to the mall with our boy Mike and Mike and I played our dressing room game. It’s where one of us goes into a dressing room in a clothing store and the other one waits outside until some shoppers wander by, and gives the signal, usually a series of coughs. The one in the dressing room then yells out, “There’s no damn toilet paper in here!” Mike and I love doing this as often as we can. The first time we did that when Mary was along, she didn’t grasp the humor of it, but later, when we were retelling it to friends, I saw her smile.

We have some zany times at our house! Like one time, when Mike was six and he was laying in our bed with Mary, just bonding with his mom. He was watching an X-rated movie on TV and she was reading. I walked in and just stood there at the foot of the bed, and when they both looked up, I said in complete somberness, “Mike, there’s something I have to tell you. Your mom and I have talked about this for years and can never figure out how to break this to you, but you just keep getting older and time slips away more and more, and I’m just going to tell you.”

I paused and swallowed hard.

“Mike,” I said. “You were adopted.”

Well, his jaw dropped and his eyes bugged out. I waited a few seconds and then said, “But they brought you back.”

Humor is all over our house! In every corner!

When Mary and I first started dating, I didn’t have a car. It blew up in the incident that got me into the Witness Protection Program and due to what I was told was a budget crunch, they didn’t spring for a new one. So, Mary drove.

When she picked me up, I asked her to just cruise a few feet in front of me so I could chase the car for a block or so. It was part of the exercise regimen I was on to lose a few pounds.

Well, with her fine-tuned sense of humor, she turned that on me. Whenever we’re out and I say something she takes exception to, she just turns to me and says, “Lie down by your dish.”

“That’s not mean,” she explains to the others. “When we first started dating, Les would chase the car. And then, he always wanted to hang his head out the window and feel the wind on his face. He understands about the dish thing.”

This next one is a true story. Not that the above stories aren’t true; this is just truer. When we were dating, I kept thinking she’s the one, but I wasn’t quite sure. So I decided to give her the “test.” It was mid-December and I took her to a movie in the Northcrest Shopping Center. It was a popular movie and there was a long line which we slipped into. About half way to the ticket booth, I performed the test to see if she was worthy. What’d I do?

I cut a fart. A very loud one. Immediately after it cleared my buns, I turned to her and said, “I’ll take the blame for that.”

She didn’t say a word. Just turned and walked toward the door.

She passed! She handled it! I knew then she was the girl for me.

We’ve had a great run. Lately, though, she’s been doing something I don’t quite understand. Lately, at night, just before I drop off to sleep, she gives me a gentle kiss on my forehead and just as my peepers are starting to close, she whispers in a barely audible voice:

“Go toward the light.”

What the heck does that mean?
Mary and Matt C., a friend of ours at the Writer's Institute at the University of Wisconsin. She's just told me to lie down by my dish.

Friday, May 21, 2010


Our blog just received a blog award from Shannon O'Donnell on her blog at Book Dreaming. I love it! Thank you so much, Shannon.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010


Hi folks,

I’m borrowing this idea and term from the wonderful series of three books on screenwriting by Blake Snider, the Save the Cat series. All credit for these ideas goes to him!

I’m convinced this is at the heart of many unfinished novels and short stories.

What does the term mean? It’s that germ of an idea for a story triggered by any number of stimuli. It can be a glimpse of something—the “smell of the rain on the road at dawn” for instance. Driving home from a night of partying, hung over, you turn onto a country blacktop and see a man hitchhiking in Army fatigues in the fine mist that’s falling. Aha! There’s a story about this guy, you think. You begin to imagine a character who’s passing through town—and you kind of visualize a story about him. If you’re David Morrell, you end up with a story titled, First Blood.

Or, you hear a story about a man whose mother has just died and the police came to inform him and they’re put off by his seeming lack of emotion about the tragedy and become suspicious. If you’re Albert Camus, perhaps you write a story based on that anecdote you’ll title, The Stranger.

All of us as writers get ideas triggered like this and any number of other ways. Thinking about the scene or idea makes us feel that there’s a story there. Usually, when we see or conceive of a story idea that way, it elicits a powerful emotion from us. The guy in our vision, standing on the road at dawn in a drizzle, wearing fatigues, triggers a feeling of sadness, say. We have an urge to write this guy’s story so that the reader will feel this same intense feeling of sadness as we do.

And so, we break out the Bic, turn on the ‘puter, put a piece of white paper in the Underwood and begin to write. And it fizzles out.

Why? As Blake Snyder says, we’ve simply fallen in love with an inspiration. That’s all it is. There’s no story there yet mostly because we haven’t yet come up with a story. All we’ve got is a guy standing in the rain on a blacktop and a feeling that this is a story. It’s gossamer. It’s not a story because we haven’t taken the time to think beyond this image very much.

I’ve got a student in a class I’m teaching at present who I think is at this stage. He’s an extremely gifted writer, but the story he’s worked on for a long time now isn’t working. I suspect it’s because he hasn’t yet thought out a story. He has an idea for a story, but ideas aren’t stories. There are infinite numbers of story ideas floating around and most of them will never become stories because they never progress beyond that stage. That image of that road.

I don’t think this man will mind if I use his story as an example. I’m not going to name him and only the other students will know who he is should they read this, and he’s a very confident writer—as he should be—totally without ego and with a ton of talent, approaching brilliance, so I don’t think he’ll mind at all.

His image of THE SMELL OF THE RAIN ON THE ROAD AT DAWN is of a young man, who upon the occasion of his twenty-first birthday discovers he’s been adopted. I don’t know if this is an image he’s gained from a  real-life event or just one he’s imagined, but it doesn’t matter.

A powerful image. One that lends itself to all kinds of dramatic possibilities. However, I don’t believe our writer hasn’t thought much beyond how that will translate into a story. Is there a story there? Well, sure. I just don’t think he’s thought what that story will be. He’s been inspired by a glimpse at a dramatic moment in a life and senses there’s a story there. The problem is, he needs to find 400 pages of material to tell this story in, and I don’t think he has more than ten pages at most at this point. He hasn’t thought much beyond the guy finding out about the lie his adoptive parents have told him all of his life and his first reaction—getting drunk and/or getting into a fight. I suspect he hasn’t gone much beyond that in his mind, other than some vague idea of going through some kind of murky struggle to resolve his problem. In fact, when he began this story in class, he admitted this was the case, when he told me it “was a work in progress and changes on a daily basis” and that he’d “only started this a few weeks ago” and “was still trying to write his way into it, if that makes sense.” As I told him; no, it doesn’t make sense. He’s posing himself an almost impossible task to try to fill the 350-400 pages a novel requires with no more than this.

This is a story doomed to failure, I’m afraid. And, I think it’s a very apt illustration of what happens to most of us when we begin a story with only “The smell of the rain…” image in our minds. The story peters out. We think up one, maybe two things that our protagonist will go through, and then our imaginations dry up. What usually happens is that at this point, another story idea presents itself and in much the same way as this one did, and we’re off in pursuit of that one, planning someday to return to the original one.

Before we know it, we have a dozen unfinished novels sitting in our file cabinet.

The problem is, the image we begin with is so powerful to us that we think that building a story around it will be easy. It is… for about three or four pages into a short story and perhaps ten-twelve pages into a novel. Sometimes, we can even get as far as 70-80 pages of a novel completed before we run out of steam. What’s happened is as Snyder says, “That flash of scent, sight, and sound makes us think we’re onto something.” We may be… but not yet. What we need to do is to take that image into a work that makes sense to others.

That means… hard work.

I suspect many of us who write are looking for easy answers. Secrets. Here’s a writing secret: There are no secrets. It’s hard work. If it was easy to write well, subsidy and vanity presses wouldn’t have any business. That’s the only easy way there is to achieve print. All it takes is a checkbook… and no pride. Or a misguided sense of what constitutes quality writing.

First, that image you have is basically just the logline. You’re kind of putting the cart before the horse to begin a novel with just that. A short story can be tackled without nearly as much forethought as a novel, although I’d still recommend giving it some thought before putting pen to paper. But, a novel, in my opinion, requires a lot of planning and thought before sitting down in front of the computer to be successful.

In my own case, I have to mull over a novel for about two years before I begin writing it. That may or may not work for others—we each have what works for us and it’s not the same for everyone. Don’t take that as a literal timeline. I don’t think about a novel for two years, then sit down and write it, send it out, and then start thinking about the next one for two years, then… I’ve always got multiple novel ideas running around in my mind—at any given time at least four or five—so whenever I finish one, I’ve got several more I’m ready to plunge into. And, many times, I’m working on several novels at the same time. In fact, at this moment in time, I’m rewriting three novels and working on two new ones. But, I would never begin a novel a week after coming up with an idea. That would be the way to failure, at least in my case. I know from experience that a story of that length needs time to mature and for me to work out the logic of it and see if it’s indeed, a story that will occupy my interest for the length of time it takes to write it. Make no mistake—it’s hard work to write a novel and I wouldn’t enter into that fray unless I was as prepared as I could be.

And that’s what I suggest for those who get that “Smell of the rain…” kind of image and inspiration for a novel. Sit on it for awhile. Think about it. Kick the tires. See if it has legs. See if you can see any depth in it. If something else comes up and diverts your attention away from it, that probably means the idea really wasn’t novel-worthy to begin with. But… the idea that won’t go away, that begs to be told, that begins to unfold in your imagination over a period of time of at least a month or two and hopefully even longer—that’s probably an idea that has legs and one you can run that marathon with. Keep in mind that ideas are cheap. They’re everywhere. There are at least as many ideas as there are politicians who will promise you something and promise you it won’t cost anything. Legions of ideas…

If you do that one thing—let that “Smell of the rain…” image percolate for at least a month at minimum—and at the end of the month it still burns that white-hot heat it had when it first came to you, then you might just have an idea you can spend the time and energy on that it will take you to fill up nearly a ream of paper. If it “disappears” from your thoughts for long stretches of time, what you probably had was just a gossamer. Go with the idea that won’t let you go.

And then, when it becomes a bestseller and you’re on the Letterman show, you can do what Snyder advises. Use it as a story to tell on the show about how you came up with the idea.

Just keep in mind always that whenever you get one of those “Smell of the rain on the road at dawn” moments, that it’s just the start of an idea and that’s all. As we say in poker, “Don’t bet the rent money on it.” Not until it won’t let you go and you have no choice but to write it or seek therapy.

And get Snyder’s books. They’re amazing! I’d buy them in the order they were written as each builds on the last. You can order them here:

Wednesday, May 12, 2010


Hi folks,

Well, here it is—my annual Mother’s Day post. In reality, this won’t be an “annual” post unless I do one next year since this is the very first one. I plan to do one next year, though. If I remember...

And… I’m aware that it’s late, but I thought that appropriate, since I always forget it until about a week later, despite a loving wife (Mary) who considers it her mission in life to let me know about things like this. The only problem is, she always lets me know the day before. Like I’m expected to remember it that long!

To make up for not sending a card on time, I decided to send Mom more than just one of those syrupy Hallmark cards. This year, I sent her a cassette tape of the movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life” starring that irrepressible boyish Jimmy Stewart from my private collection. (This is the movie where he isn’t dressed up like a giant rabbit, in which he’s also irrepressible and boyish.)

Then, the second I got home from mailing it to her, I realized I’d made a grievous mistake. I hadn’t sent her the movie I thought I had. It dawned on me that I’d sent her an entirely different movie. To be exact, my copy of the classic film noir, College Girls Having Monkey Sex, Part XIV. If you haven’t seen it, it’s the one where the coed from Vassar has her boobs pointed in opposite directions and her co-star ends up with whiplash trying to treat them equally and stay on his mark. (“Mark” for you non-theater majors is the piece of tape the director places on the floor to show the actor where to stand.)


The reason I realized my faux pas, was that when I got home I thought I might want to watch a few minutes of it and couldn’t locate it and then remembered I’d labeled it… you guessed it… It’s a Wonderful Life… in the unlikely event Mary went through my collection looking for a something to watch.

I ran all the way back to the post office in hopes I could talk the mail guy into letting me have my package back, but it seems they have rules against that kind of thing. You can guess how that turned out, if you’ve ever had to deal with the United Nazi States of Mail Carriers. Guy treated me like I was the Unibomber. I called him “Cliff”and “Newman” but he didn’t get it.

I was in a sweat when I found it had already been shipped, but then I remembered Mom didn’t have a cassette player. Or a VCR. Or, even a TV. She’d sold her TV when The Ed Sullivan Show went off the air a few years ago.

The luck of the Irish!

Realizing I better do something more than send her a tape she couldn’t watch, I asked Mary if we could take her out to dinner.
“When?” she said. “On Father’s Day? That’s the next holiday.”

I laughed. (That’s it. I just laughed) Then, I said, “Of course not, silly. This weekend.”

“Only if you don’t use that name in the restaurant that you always do,” she said.

I agreed and called Mom to give her the good news. “We’d like to take you out to dinner for your big day,” I said. “Where would you like to go?”

“Would this be an early Mother’s Day for 2011 or the late one for 2010?”

I laughed. (That’s it. I just laughed. I’ve been trained by Mary.) Then I said, “Of course not, silly. The second one. 2010. The battery in my calendar died.”

Golden Corral was her first choice, but I talked her out of that. “They’re closed,” I lied. “There was a big pileup of people on walkers and the health department closed them until they widen the ramp. Thirty-six people suffered aluminum whiplash. There are herds of  lawyers everywhere and you couldn't get in even if it was open.”

She sounded skeptical, but then said her second choice was Red Lobster. This, to a guy who’s lived in New Orleans half his life and has actually eaten real seafood was like the chef at Ruth’s Chris Steak House grabbing a square hamburger down at Wendy’s on his day off, but hey, it was my mom and it was her day. I looked forward to gazing at their menu with pictures of the nine-pound lobsters on the menu and them seeing the actual three-ounce one they served. To be fair, the actual meal is the same size as the picture when you put them up next to each other.

She decided to drive down from where she lived in South Bend to our home in Ft. Wayne, a true adventure for the other drivers on the highway since she’s 88 and drives older than her actual age. You’ve heard that saying? “(Blank) drives like old people fornicate? Slow and jerky?” That’s Mom. If you ever see those long lines on winding country roads where there are 117 cars trailing behind the John Deere tractor, it was Mom who taught that tractor driver how to navigate our rural byways. I suggested she might want to start out the night before to get to our place on time, but she didn’t think that was all that funny.

“You’re not too old to get a spanking, Mr. Smartmouth,” she said. Well, yes, I am, Mom. I have gray hair and arthritis and can remember when phones had dials. Besides, how are you going to catch me? I can crawl faster than you can walk. I didn’t say anything like that to her, of course. After all, she’s my mom and deserves respect. Besides, as long as I knew I could outrun her that was enough. I didn’t have to rub it in.

Before she hung up, she said, ”You’re not going to use that name you always do in restaurants, are you? Because if you do, I’m not coming.”

“No, Mom, I’m not. I’m grown up, now.” Jesus! What do she and Mary do? Get together and compare notes?

She gets here, only two and a half hours past her ETA, and we all climb in the car and head for the gastronomical delights only available at national chains.

We get to the Red Lobster and I’m anticipating something on my plate that looks like a medium jumbo shrimp that they’re going to try to pawn off as a Maine lobster and we all go in. This takes awhile as we’re proceeding at Mom’s pace which is about as fast as the last day of school.

“We should hurry, Mom,” I said. “They close in only six hours.”

Mary gives me a dirty look. So does Mom, who says, “You’re not too big to get a spanking.” I consider showing her my driver’s license to show her my age as she’s obviously forgotten, but I don’t. It’s Mother’s Day. Well, not really—that was last week, but we’re operating on the theme of Mother’s Day and I want to remain true to the spirit.

I hustle ahead of them and give our name to the hostess.

When I come back, Mom says, “How long?” and Mary says, “You didn’t give them that name, did you?”

“Twenty minutes,” I say to Mom, and to Mary I just give a pained look, as if to say, “How could you even think I’d do that?”

We pass the time listening to Mom complain about the present government and ask to see a menu so  she can make her choice, which is always the same. The lobster/shrimp combo.  I think she just wants to check to make sure they haven’t taken either off the menu. Although, if they ran out of one, they could just serve the one that was left and tell the diner it was the missing one. Who would know?

Then, she lays a bomb on me. “I love that movie, you sent me,” she said. “I’m going over to your sister Ann’s house to watch it when I get back home.”

And then, our table is announced over the loudspeaker.

“Donner, party of three.”

I get two dirty looks from the women I’m with.

“That’s us,” I say.

I love Mother’s Day!
My wife Mary, just before leaving for Red Lobster on Mother's Day. She's just warned me not to use "that name" for our reservation. Is it just me or does she look skeptical when I tell her I won't?

Monday, May 10, 2010


Scott Evans, editor of Blue Moon Literary and Art Review just notified me that the new issue is out. I have a story in it, so everybody buy copies, okay? Just keep in mind that Christmas is right around the corner and they'll make great gifts. I'd buy 10 or 20 copies... Seriously, you can order copies from their website at

 Sad day at our house. My wife Mary and I just took our dog Buddy to the vet to be put down. He's been part of our family for the past 14 years and started out to be our son Mike's dog, but turned into both his and Mary's dog. I yelled at him a lot, so we had our own special bond. He was really a great dog. Mike won a state photography contest with a picture of Buddy reading a book. (All of our animals are required to read books in our house and submit a book report when done)


 Our son Mike won the PTA State Championship in the Reflections photography contest when he was in the sixth grade with this photo of his dog Buddy. Check out the title. Mike got the idea himself and set up the shot. He went to Border's Bookstore and got Harry Potter glasses for him to wear. My wife Mary saved the day as we couldn't get Buddy to sit still long enough for Mike to take the shot, when she got the idea to put peanut butter on the rug in front of him. Buddy gave a lick and then lifted his head to try to get the peanut butter off of his tongue and that's when Mike got the shot. He was the first state winner at his elementary school.

We miss Buddy!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010


Hi folks,
As promised, I'm writing a bit more about the subject of graphology. Hope you enjoy it.

I just realized that in signing books, I'm leaving myself wide-open to have my own handwriting analyzed... Oops...

There’s no way I can cover handwriting analysis thoroughly in a couple of posts (or even fifty posts!), but I’ll try to give some of the major points. Again, I’d highly recommend Andrea McNichol’s HANDWRITING ANALYSIS: Putting It to Work for You for a broad view and a starting point. It’s a marvelous book and will give you a great introduction to the science of graphology and it’s just plain entertaining!

Just a few of the things a handwriting analysis can reveal about the writer are:
1. Drug use
2. Cheating
3. Criminal behavior
4. Health or the presence of disease
5. Which potential mate is more considerate
6. Who cheated his customer
7. Who’s lying about his age
8. Who is liable to cheat with numbers, such as accountants and bookkeepers.
9. Level of intelligence
10. Strong vs weak work drive
11. Extroversion vs introversion
13. Who has more energy
14. Who’s more reliable and predictable
15. Which person wants a divorce
16. Which person is a convicted killer
17. Who is more aggressive and who is less aggressive
18. Who is more depressed and who is happier
19. Who tends toward the emotional side of their personality than the intellectual and vice versa
20. Who is narrow-minded
21. Who holds back his/her feelings
22. Who feels more economical
23. Who ventures out more
24. Who’s more organized
25. Who thinks more about the future? About the present? About the past?
26. Who feels defensive and has something to hide
27. Who’s more reliable and predictable
Many, many more!

In short, just about everything to do with a person’s personality and nature!

Here’s what Carl Jung said about handwriting analysis:
No one can get out of his own skin. We act as our psychological past, i.e., as our cerebral organization dictates. For this reason, we are bound to expose ourselves in exactly the same way as we do in our own handwriting.

Graphology is the study of all graphic movement. It’s not simply “handwriting analysis.” It’s not our hand or our toes or our mouth (in the case of those who’ve lost limbs and relearned how to write) that decide how we’ll write and make our marks on paper. Those decisions come from our minds and are actually “brain writing.” Those brain prints reveal who we are—how we think, feel and behave. Although our moods may change, part of our handwriting will always remain the same, just as part of you always remains the same.

A very telling study of a group of juvenile delinquents was conducted in which the kids were asked to substitute positive handwriting traits in place of their negative traits and their antisocial behavior were significantly changed to more social behavior.

There are three aspects of human beings that are reflected in graphology, the physical, the mental, and the emotional. The physical aspects revealed are our identities, the state of our physical health, and the presence of drugs, alcohol or other foreign substances in our bodies. Mental aspects revealed are our intelligence and aptitudes. Emotional aspects that can be determined from our handwriting are how we think, feel and behave.

Some interesting facts:
1. The slant of your letters reveals the degree to which you express your real emotional feelings to others. It doesn’t say to what degree you have feelings, but to what degree you’ll express them to others. Slanting to the right is to express your real emotional feelings—to be demonstrative, affectionate, passionate. A right slant also indicates a person oriented toward the future. About 70% of American adults have a rightward slant their whole lives.

A vertical slant is a person suppressing their real emotional feelings. It’s the slant associated with diplomacy in that you neither express nor repress your feelings—you stay on top of things. It means “head over heart” or thinking rather than feeling and it also indicates a person more oriented toward the present.

A leftward slant indicates a person who represses their real emotional feelings. To think one thing but say another, to lean over backwards to avoid emotional situations. Such a slant is associated with those who do first and last what’s best for themselves alone, who are overly materialistic and overly concerned with outward appearances. It also means a person oriented toward the past.

It may help to picture slant as a person standing. What does the person leaning toward you indicate? The person standing straight up? The person leaning back from you?

There can often be different slants within the same writing sample or even within the same sentence. This is very telling and I don’t have space here to show all the things this indicates.

An interesting case study is looking at a sample of Jackie Kennedy’s handwriting shortly after Jack Kennedy’s assassination. It has a decided left slant. It indicates a writer that, at the time, was “cold, reserved, indecisive, not straightforward, masks feelings, hard to fathom, difficult to get along with. Her personal pronoun I (a very revealing word) has an even more pronounced left slant. Also, her signature (also very revealing) is at a distance from the body of the letter examined, indicating a person who is disassociating herself from what she just wrote. The actual note read: “I should have known that it was asking too much to dream that I might have grown old with him.” When her husband was assassinated, reporters reported that Jackie “showed no emotion whatsoever. You wanted her to cry, to do something, but… nothing. That’s typical of a leftward slanter. She also had another characteristic in that sample—a feature called “clubbed stroking.” It’s a feature that usually indicates the potential for cruelty.

About 70% of Americans write with a rightward slant, 5% with a vertical, 15% with a leftward slant, and 10% with an unstable slant. A high percentage of teenagers, especially girls, will experiment with a backwarded slant. At the time of this experimentation, the teenager may be experiencing unhappy or rebellious feelings. A very high percentage of gourmet chefs exhibit a rightward slant. They’re very emotional about their work!

There are traits associated with individual letters. One seen at times is the “maniacal d.” That’s a small-case “d” that unexpectedly slants far to the right. It indicates… you guessed it… maniacal behavior. What it actually indicates is a loss of control over hand movement to the right, indicative of loss of mental and emotional control. This is a person who is suddenly pulled off balance, and out of emotional control, prone to explosive behavior. The further rightward these d’s or other letters lean, the more the writer is at the mercy of his emotional outbursts. And the more frequently these Maniac d’s appear, the more often the writer goes off the emotional deep end. This is a trait that quite often shows up in the writing of many of the most notorious murderers of our time. Andrea shows an example of this in Steve Grogan’s writing, a member of the Charles Manson family. It’s in Lee Harvey Oswald’s script and many others, including the Zodiac killer.

Nearly perfect writing may also be a sign of emotional stress. When writing is too pretty, too perfect, too tight, everything alike as though it had been produced by a typewriter, it means the writer is compensating for an inner feeling of loss of control. These writers are often one step away from cracking up. This type of writer, at this period of their lives, often put rulers under their writing, and are people who write too mechanically. Many go along in life, seemingly handling everything until, boom! They lose control and go berserk. Again, as I said in the first post of this subject, at times this is job-created, particularly among elementary teachers and especially during the time they are teaching cursive writing to their students.

A sign of above-average intelligence is a writer who combines print and cursive and observers may remark that it looks “sloppy.” This is a positive sign, unless it is so sloppy as to be unintelligible, and then it becomes a negative sign, indicating a person who doesn’t really wish to communicate clearly. Extremes of any trait can indicate a negative, rather than a positive trait.

Beware the accountant who writes down numbers that are hard to make out! There’s a reason they do this and they’re usually unaware that they do… or they’d change so they didn’t get caught…

There are dozens and dozens of traits that an analyst uses to determine the writer’s personality and predict behavior from. No one trait by itself is reliable. It’s also important to take several samples, written at different periods, if possible, to get the most accurate assessment.

I hope I’ve whetted your appetite a bit to find out more about this fascinating science. Again, I’d highly recommend Andrea McNichol’s book to begin with.

Just don’t have your novel’s detective characters saying they can tell a writer’s age, sex or if they’re left-or right-handed!