Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Guilty Conscience: BIG NEWS!

Hi folks,
I'm honored (or, should I say "honoured" since Luca is in England...) to have been asked to submit a story for Luca Veste's new collection of stories from some of the best crime and noir writers extant. We were all asked to create a short story based on a song. One of my favorite songs is Tom Waits' "Small Change." I even teach it in my writing classes. What makes this even better is that the proceeds will be going to a worthy charity. Check it out!

Guilty Conscience: BIG NEWS!: Hello! I have two announcements to make. One rather self-involved and another a lot more interesting. First off, the big news... . Gui...

Friday, September 23, 2011


Hi folks,

Just got the final cover for THE BITCH which will be coming out soon from Bare Knuckles Press! I love it! And, your suggestions made a really big impact on it. All who posted suggestions used have been noted and will receive free copies. I want to single out one from Anthony Neil Smith, who suggested that the BKP colophone be relocated from the upper left-hand corner to the bottom right hand corner and that made a huge difference. Thanks, Mr. Smith and thanks to all the others who weighed in with super suggestions.

And now... ta-da (imagine a big drum roll)... here's my cover.

I'm jazzed!

Blue skies,

Thursday, September 22, 2011


Hi folks,

I think I've posted this before, but if I have it's been some time so I hope you'll find it useful. This is one of the handouts I use for my writing classes and portions of this appear in both of my writing books, FINDING YOUR VOICE and HOOKED.

          Tension is the stuff of great stories. In fact, without tension, there is no story, at least in terms of literature. Tension is easy to explain, sometimes difficult to execute. It can also be called crisis or conflict. Without the element of tension, stories fall flat.
          Consider this: Dick gets accepted to Harvard, graduates magna cum laude, lands a job in a top Wall Street investment firm. While there, he meets Gwen, a beautiful investment counselor. They begin to date and a year later marry. They have twins, a boy and girl who grow up to be wonderful children, earning top grades in school and eventually progress to adulthood, go to good schools, marry well and give their parents terrific grandchildren. Gwen and Dick never have a fight, invest wisely for both themselves and their clients, and become wealthy. Perfectly compatible, they read the same books, enjoy the same movies, and end up dying in their sleep together at the age of ninety-four. Their funeral is well-attended by the rich and famous, all whom have loved and adored the lucky couple.
          A nice story...in real life...but a complete washout as a fictional story. Their story is interesting only to themselves and perhaps their friends and relatives, but to anyone else it is a major snooze.
          Now, make Dick black and Gwen white and Dick has an enemy...and you have a story (Othello). Or, they have a great love for each other but Gwen’s married (Anna Karenina). Or, he loves her with everything he’s got but she only goes for him after he’s exhausted his passion (Gone With The Wind).
          Mel McKee, an editor and teacher, tells his students that “a story is a war. It is sustained and immediate combat.” He gives four rules for writing a story.
                   (1) Get your fighters fighting, (2) Have something --the stake-- worth their fighting over, (3) Have the fight dive into a series of battles with the last battle in the series the biggest and most dangerous of all, (4) Have a walking away from the fight.
          A story is about a character wanting something intensely and there is an impediment to his or her goal. That’s it. Keep in mind, the thing the character wants need not be something huge and spectacular, but the character must want whatever it is with great intensity. In David Madden’s novel The Suicide’s Wife, the protagonist wants nothing more than to get her driver’s license, but she feels her identity and future depend on getting that license and a corrupt highway patrolman tries to manipulate her and because she wants her license so badly it becomes a terrific story.
          A result of watching too many bad movies and TV series and reading too many potboiler melodramas, is that beginning writers sometimes feel that the best way to introduce drama into their fiction is by way of murders, airplane crashes, bank robbers and the lot, not realizing most roadblocks to desires in real life are much closer to home, in the form of our own personalities, bodies, friends and families and make for much better literature. More passion, says Janet Burroway in Writing Fiction, is destroyed at the breakfast table than in a time warp.
          Kurt Vonnegut speaks about story tension in an interview in the Paris Review, when he says,
                   When I used to teach creative writing, I would tell students to make their characters want something right away even if it’s only a glass of water. Characters paralyzed by the meaninglessness of modern life still have to drink water from time to time. One of my students wrote a story about a nun who got a piece of dental floss stuck between her lower left molars, and who couldn’t get it out all day long. I thought that was wonderful. The story dealt with issues a lot more important than dental floss, but what kept readers going was anxiety about when the dental floss would finally be removed. Nobody could read that story without fishing around in his mouth with a finger.
          What we as writers want to do to our readers is keep them wondering and worrying. So long as they are doing that, they are turning the pages. The easiest (and perhaps best) way of doing this is by raising story questions at the very beginning. A story question is a device to make the reader curious. They aren’t put in question form, but are statements that require further explanation, problems that require resolution, forecasts of crisis, and the like (from James N. Frey, How to Write a Damn Good Novel). A knock on the door late at night. (Question: Who could be there?) Jim meets Nancy on the train. (Question: Will they like each other?) Betty didn’t believe in ESP. (Question: Will this disbelief be put to the test?)
          These kinds of beginnings are very effective in creating tension in stories and they can be answered very quickly or they can be long-range story questions that won’t be answered until near the end of the story. Beware of story questions that don’t become fairly irrelevant to the story; the question must not only get the reader involved in the story, it should be justified by the story that follows. If it is a question that isn’t the main question of the story, it must logically lead to that question.
          Poor openings that are often used, are openings such as Frey describes in his book:
·         Ginger’s bedroom had striped wallpaper on the walls and a desk under the window. (questions raised: none.).
·         Ocean City was no place to have fun at night, so Oswald decided to go to bed early and read about how to make a paper airplane. )This is a negative story question; the reader doesn’t want to read on because he doesn’t want to be bored.).
·         The old Ford had a rusted paint job and a horsehair seat that smelled like an old pair of sneakers. (Again, no question being raised-description only.).
·         The warm sea breeze blew in through the open window and the moon overhead was a golden globe on the horizon of the Santa Cruz mountains. (Sounds like a fiction story all right, but it isn’t going to hook a reader.).
          On the other hand, here’s some examples of good opening questions:
·         The cold passed reluctantly from the earth, and the retiring fogs revealed an army stretched out on the hills, resting. As the landscape changed from brown to green, the army awakened, and began to tremble with eagerness at the noise of rumors. (The Red Badge of Courage. Question: What are the rumors?)
·         Someone must have traduced Joseph K., for without having done anything wrong, he was arrested one fine morning. (The Trial. All kinds of story questions are raised here. Why was he arrested? What will happen to him? Who turned him in and why?
          To create anxiety in the reader, you must create a sympathetic character, one who most readers will want to see good things happen to. And then, throughout the story, the reader should be worrying about bad things that will happen to the character.
          Tension is created by first creating story questions, putting the sympathetic character(s) in a situation of menace (to their goals), and lighting the fuse, thereby making the reader wonder and worry.
          Keep in mind that sympathetic characters are not always wholesome characters - they can be the worst individuals on the face of the earth, but there must be something about them that the reader can identify with. That is what is meant by “sympathy” in the literary sense. In the novel, The Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal Lector is definitely not the traditional protagonist that inspires sympathy in the common acceptance of the term (in the nonliterary sense), but he represents an intellectual strength and control over his emotions that many wish they had. This makes him sympathetic in literary meaning. The word sympathetic in literature doesn’t mean we have sympathy for him or her; it means there is something inherent in the character that we admire or desire for ourselves, in Lector’s case, intellectual strength. The fact that he is helping catch another serial killer is his redeeming feature that can allow us to identify with him as readers and keep turning the pages to see what happens.
          Once you have established tension with your story question, you must keep it going. And escalating to a final act of epiphany in which the main character is changed forever.
          Janet Burroway gives a good example of such a story ending and epiphany when she gives us a story outline about two brothers on a fishing trip who struggle with each other. The protagonist, for most of the story, holds his older brother in contempt, only to discover at the end of the story that they are really bound together by love and family history. This is a clear epiphany, a mental reversal. An immature writer might mistakenly signal this change in a section whereby “suddenly Larry remembered their father and realized that Jeff was very much like him.” Doesn’t work. Why? Because even though the realization is internal, it must be manifested in an action so the reader is able to share the experience and thereby be moved with the character. The way it should be portrayed is - Jeff reached for the old net and neatly bagged the trout, swinging round to offer it with a triumphant, ‘Got it! We got it, didn’t we?” The trout flipped and struggled, giving off a smell of weed and water and fecund mud. Jeff’s knuckles were lined with grime. The knuckles and the rich river smell filled him with a memory of their first fishing trip together, the sight of their father’s hands on the same scarred net...
          Here is a memory, leading to a realization, and it was triggered by an action and sensory details the reader can share. Do you see the difference? There has to be a physical action that leads to the moment of realization that is what makes story...story.
          Another technique to avoid like the plague, is the “John Wayne rescue”. This was the hallmark of many bad Westerns and other movies and poorly-written stories. This occurs when the wagon train is circled by Indians and all appears lost...and out of nowhere the cavalry appears to rescue them. Don’t do this! This is just simply bad writing. The ability to resolve a conflict must come from within and it should be foreshadowed, not foisted as a complete surprise on the reader as something completely foreign to the situation. Also, don’t use this technique (John Wayne rescues) to further the action. There is an awful movie that every now and then makes it rounds on late-night television you may have seen that illustrates this. (Just shows you Hollywood will put out anything)
          I forget the name of the movie, but the plot line is based on a man and woman being trapped inside a new-fangled, high-security office building they can’t get out of until Monday morning. I also don’t remember why, but a thug is chasing them around the building trying to kill them. They’re out on ledges, running down stairwells, etc. Lots of grubby, stereotypical "action" of the lowest rank. At one point, about midway through the movie, the man and woman somehow miraculously get the drop on the bad guy and knock him out with a staple gun. At this point, the movie fails, because they drop the staple gun and leave the unconscious villain and begin running again. This is a grave insult to the viewer’s intelligence. In a life and death situation like this, anyone with any brains at all, would either finish the bad guy off or if they have moral qualms about killing, would stay with him and every time he came to they’d knock him out again. Or tie him up or something. But no, these geniuses elect to start running again. They’re so dumb as characters you want the bad guy to whack them out just for their stupidity. This bit was written into the story just to advance the plot and keep the action going. It’s a trick and any intelligent viewer is going to switch the dial off at this point or walk out of the theater, assuming that they value their time and don’t wish to waste it on movies for the terminably brain-dead. Whenever you get to a place in the story where basic common sense dictates one course of action and you, as writer, have the characters take another (let’s call it an “idiot” course), just to advance the story, then the story is doomed. So beware.
          In today’s world, good fiction echoes life itself in that there are no clear or permanent solutions, that the conflicts of character, relationships and the universe can’t be permanently resolved. There are no more “and they lived happily ever after” kinds of stories, at least ones that anyone would want to read. But the story form demands a resolution of some sort. Take a war story, for example. After the initial skirmish, after the guerrillas, after the air strike, after the poison gas and the nuclear bomb, two survivors emerge from a shelter. They crawl, then stumble to the fence that marks the border. Each grasps the barbed wire with a bloodied fist. The “resolution” of this battle is that no one will ever win. There will never be a resolution, and this epiphany leads the reader to realize a change has been effected from the opening scene in which it seemed worthwhile to initiate a skirmish. In the opening question of conflict was contained the possibility that one side or the other would win; in the resolution of the story it is clear that no one can ever win. (From Janet Burroway’s Writing Fiction)
          To sum up, one effective way tension is created is from the onset by use of a “story question”. (Created by the inciting incident - will (s)he resolve the problem?) It is then escalated by a series of incidents in which the protagonist tries to resolve the question, until when all else has failed, there is one last scene in which by his or her own initiative, and triggered by an action, the question is resolved, for bad or good. Out of this must come a change in the situation from whence he or she began, a shift in the main character’s thinking, belief, or take on life. You might look on “story” as someone traveling down a path and the things that happen to him on that trek take him down a different fork in the road in the end than he or she initially intended to or was even aware of.

Hope this helps in your own writing!
Blue skies,

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Wednesday, September 14, 2011


Hi folks,
I’m supremely honored and humbled. Erika Liodice, author of the novel, Empty Arms, and one of the bloggers listed here on my site, and one I visit daily, nominated my lil’ blog for The Versatile Blogger Award! I’ve followed Erika for a long, long time on her blog, Writing the Dream at http://www.erikaliodice.com/. Thank you so much for this singular honor, Erika!

There are four simple rules for The Versatile Blogger Award:
1. Post a link to the person who gave you the award.
2. Tell your readers seven random things about yourself.
3. Award 15 newly discovered blogs.
4. Send them a note letting them know you nominated them.
So, here are 7 random things about me:

1. I was a criminal for a long time and went to prison.
2. I kept my criminal background a secret for many years.
3. I have a fear of heights when I’m standing on something like a cliff or a bridge, but none when I’m in an airplane.
4. I wet the bed until I was a year old. Oh—that’s not unusual? My bad.
5. I sucked my thumb until I was six. Someone told me that was unusual…
6. I think the best book ever written was The Stranger by Albert Camus.
7. I firmly believe my wife Mary is the most beautiful woman who has ever lived—inside and out.

And here are the 15 nominees I’ve chosen (in no particular order—in fact, they’re all #1):
1. You Would Say That, Wouldn’t You? http://pdbrazill.blogspot.com/ Noir master, Paul D. Brazill’s absolutely amazing blog.
2. Criminal-E http://criminal-e.blogspot.com/ One of the most interesting and informative blogs in existence for writers and readers alike, by author, editor and literary agent, Allan Guthrie.
3. Guilty Conscience http://guiltyconscienceblog.blogspot.com/ A must-read blog for crime and noir writers and readers  by Luca Veste.
4. Spinetingler Magazine Blog http://www.spinetinglermag.com/ Featuring the writerly info by Jack Getze, Sandra Ruttan and Brian Lindenmuth and others—all rightfully-so “big names” in crime fiction. These folks are on the cutting edge of fiction.
5. The Graveyard Shift http://www.leelofland.com/wordpress/ This is THE place to go to fact-check your novel if it involves police, police procedures, or even criminals and their ways. Lee Lofland is the real deal and provides a huge service to writers with this blog and with his Writer’s Police Academy. Plus, he’s a great guy.
6. The Kill Zone http://killzoneauthors.blogspot.com/ This is written by a group of some of the top thriller and crime writers in the world—guys like John Gilstrap. If you want to know the real inside stuff in writing and publishing in the genres of thriller, noir, and suspense, this is the place to go.
7. The Worst Book Ever http://theworstbookever.blogspot.com/ I’d nominate this blog by my publisher Aaron Patterson (StoneGate Ink) simply for being the coolest-named blog out there, but it’s truly a super blog for writers.
8. Sea Minor http://nigelpbird.blogspot.com/ Written by brilliant noir writer, Nigel Bird, every day he posts exciting visuals and commentary.
9. HermansGreasySpoon http://anthonyneilsmith.typepad.com/hermansgreasyspoon/ Another blog with a great name… and a great writer behind it—Anthony Neil Smith. If you read DocNoir’s books be prepared to buy ‘em all. He gives great perspectives on both writing craft and on the thinkings of a writer.
10. Write On – Hooked Again http://dawnall.wordpress.com/ Great posts every single time on the craft of writing and on the spirituality of writing from Dawn Allen.
11. Eating My Words http://shirleyjump.blogspot.com/ This blog is by my buddy, Shirley Jump, bestselling romance writer and teacher. Lots and lots of good stuff on both writing and food here. Warning: If you visit Shirley’s blog, not only will you gain invaluable writing advice… you’ll simply gain. Weight. She shows food and gives recipes that will make you wish you had a treadmill in your bedroom. I don’t know how she does it—she looks as if she never ate a brownie in her life!
12. Love and Chocolate http://sallyclements.blogspot.com/ Written by Sally Clements, multi-published author and giver of great writing advice.
13. Christine’s Journey http://christinedanek.blogspot.com/ Written by writer Christine Danek, this blog is just chockful of great writing advice, super book reviews, and scintillating author interviews.
14. Piedmont Writer http://piedmontwriter.blogspot.com/ This is author Anne Gallagher’s (The Lady’s Fate) blog and it’s a winner! She’s got the kind of writer’s voice that you want to keep reading and keep reading.
15.Straight From Hel http://straightfromhel.blogspot.com/. This is one of the best and most informative blogs ever written, by my buddy, Helen Ginger. If I were to list just one blog, Helen’s would probably be the one, just for all the innumerable times she’s gone out of her way to help her fellow writers. Not to mention the cutting-edge writing information she dispenses. Not to mention that she’s just a great human being.
 And so many, many more!! I had to leave off so many equally-interesting and deserving blogs that I kind of feel sick about it. I hope those people know that I just ran out of spots. In fact, every single blog I have on my blog list here should have been on it, but I have more than 15!

Thanks again, Erika!
Blue skies,

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Guilty Conscience: Les Edgerton - Just Like That

Guilty Conscience: Les Edgerton - Just Like That: Les Edgerton’s buddy novel, JUST LIKE THAT, is based on an actual trip he took with an ex-prison cellmate under similar circumstances as pro...

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Review of THE PERFECT CRIME by Carl Brush

Hi folks,
My friend Carl Brush just posted a review of my latest novel, The Perfect Crime, on his blog (http://writerworking.net/) and I’m sharing it here with you. Thanks, Carl! 

Just a couple of weeks ago (Sept 15), WW had the pleasure of commenting on a Les Edgerton work (Just Like That) and here we are again with The Perfect Crime Both of these are on Kindle for not much money, and I recommend immediate downloads.

The Perfect Crime takes off like a bullet and doesn’t let up till it smashes into its own surprising, yet inevitable, ending. Charles “Reader” Kincaid is a bad actor with an ingenious mind. He cooks up a terrific plot to garner revenge and a few million dollars at one and the same time. The plan involves having the money stolen by proxy so he doesn’t have to dirty his hands or risk capture, and doing it in a way that will deliver maximum damage to the object of his ire. 

On the way from Dayton, Ohio, to New Orleans, where he plans to deliver his coup de Grace, Reader picks up an entourage he’d rather not have along on this particular journey. 

Grady Fogarty is a retired cop whose brother Reader murders as he develops his plan. However, evidence is thin, and with the perp seemingly headed across jurisdictional lines, the chances of nailing him--ever--seem to be the old combo of slim and none. Grady’s obviously not satisfied with that, so he gases up and heads south.
It takes some fierce detective work and some new alliances with other ex-cops of entertaining and fascinating character to even pick up the genius-criminal’s trail, and even more of all that to stay on it. Edgerton follows the actions of several major characters so that we’re in constant suspense if and how and when their circumstances will intertwine. Grady naturally stumbles into some hot romance along the way, and their “first time” scene--because it’s set up just right and is not particularly graphic--is one of the juiciest you’ve ever read.  

No more plot from me. The joy of discovering that and the intricacies of the characters you’ll get from reading the work, not the reviews. I will say, however, that despite the fact that this is a novel of action, we end with a rather philosophical question about what is, strictly speaking, legal and what is just. Nice. 
Thanks, Carl. I’m glad he noticed and pointed out the sex scene—I think it’s the best one I’ve ever written and the most original. And, as he points out, it’s not graphic in any sense.

Blue skies,

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Monday, September 5, 2011


Hi folks,

Here is the final cover for THE RAPIST. You gave the editors of Bare Knuckles Press--Cort McMeel and Eddie Vega--great suggestions for it and they listened! We've made note of those who contributed the ideas used and you'll receive a free copy when it's published (Fall, 2011).

Now they're working on the final cover for THE BITCH. We'd like to ask for your input once more on it. There are five possibilities and the end result may be one of those or one combining elements from the others. Please let us know your thoughts and Eddie and Cort are very interested in what you think and will take your suggestions seriously.

First, here's the final cover for THE RAPIST.

And here are the five possibilities for THE BITCH (In order, A - E)

The scene depicted is a pivotal scene, where the protagonist Jake and his ex-cellmate, Spitball, are on their way in the woods to bury a pair of victims.

There is already one change not seen here. The shovel in each of these looked more like a snow shovel than a digging shovel and that's been corrected for future mockups.

Please send us your votes on which you like the best or combinations you might like. For instance, you might like the art in one, but the lettering in another.

Thank you so very much!

And, for those who haven't glommed onto a copy of my two novels that just came out from StoneGate Ink, here are handy links. For those who live outside the U.S. just go to the Amazon or B&N service for your country and type my name into the Kindle or Nook search boxes. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for your support! Also, you might want to check out my short story and the other noir stories in the just-released NOIR NATION (link provided). They have gathered the top noir writers in the world for this and it's a great honor to be included.

Blue skies,