Monday, June 12, 2017

My latest book, LAGNIAPPE, is out!

Hi folks,

I’m pleased to announce the release of my new collection of stories, Lagniappe.

Click here

Twenty years after the publication of his first short story collection, Monday’s Meal, Les Edgerton delivers the goods once again in this collection of harrowing tales of outlaws, ex-cons, frightened men and women, rap-partners throwing back tall boys and taller tales, children forced to become killers, stabbings and shootings, bad asses and sad asses…a wide-ranging collection of distinct and memorable characters who will exhibit a kind of wisdom not obtainable from the halls of academia. This is not a gathering of people contemplating their navels but real people facing the consequences of their actions…and it ain’t often pretty.

Praise for Les Edgerton…

“Les Edgerton has swiftly become my favorite crime writer. Original voice, uncompromising attitude and a pure hardboiled style leap him to the front ranks of my reading list. He will become legendary.” —Joe R. Lansdale, author of Paradise Sky, The Bottoms, Edge of Dark Water, The Thicket, and the Hap and Leonard series, the books behind the TV series of the same name, and many others.

“Reading Les Edgerton’s stories is like listening to those old World War II broadcasts from the London blitz, with the reporter crouching under a restaurant table, microphone in hand, while the bombs drop on the city and the ceiling caves in. Edgerton reports on the world and the news is not good. There’s a kind of wacky wisdom in these bulletins from the underside of life; the stories are full of people you hope never move in next door, for whom ordinary life is an impossible dream. This is good fiction; Edgerton writes lean and nasty prose.” —Dr. Francois Camoin, Director, Graduate School of English, University of Utah and author of Benbow and Paradise, Like Love, But Not Exactly, Deadly Virtues, The End of the World Is Los Angeles and Why Men Are Afraid of Women.

“Les Edgerton is the new High King of Noir.” —Ken Bruen, author of The Emerald Lie, The Guards, Pimp, and many others.
The sad wives, passive or violent husbands, parolees, alcoholics and other failures in Leslie H. Edgerton's short-story collection are pretty miserable people. And yet misery does have its uses. Raymond Carver elevated the mournful complaints of the disenfranchised in his work, and Edgerton makes an admirable attempt to do the same. He brings to this task an unerring ear for dialogue and a sure-handed sense of place (particularly New Orleans, where many of the stories are set). Edgerton has affection for even his most despicable characters—"boring" Robert, who pours scalding water over his sleeping wife in "The Last Fan"; Jake, the musician responsible for his own daughter's death in "The Jazz Player"; and Tommy in 'I Shoulda Seen a Credit Arranger," whose plan to get hold of some money involves severing the arm of a rich socialite—but he never takes the reader past the brink of horrible fascination into a deeper understanding. In the best story, "My Idea of a Nice Thing," a woman named Raye tells us why she drinks: "My job. I'm a hairdresser. See, you take on all of these other people's personalities and troubles and things, 10 or 12 of 'em a day, and when the end of the day comes, you don't know who you are anymore. It takes three drinks just to sort yourself out again." Here Edgerton grants both the reader and Raye the grace of irony, and without his authorial intrusion, we find ourselves caring about her predicament.—Denise Gess. The New York Times Book Review, November 16, 1997

Hope you enjoy the read! If you do, please consider leaving a review on Amazon and/or Goodreads. That’s probably the best thing a reader can do for a writer they like. I’d really appreciate your support!
Blue skies,


Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Example of how our online novel-writing class works...

Hi folks,
I’m posting a long post today. It’s a good example of my teaching method and my hope is that by reading it, the writers out there in Blogland, will perhaps see some of their own writing that may hopefully be assisted a bit by looking at the work and journey of a fellow writer.

These exchanges were written between Todd Monahan and I and after the Skype class, Todd enrolled in our online novel-writing class where he finished his terrific novel, The Vexing Heirloom.

From Todd Monahan, in the Skype New York Writer’s online class conducted by Les Edgerton and Jenny Milchman. The following is a series of interchanges between Todd and Les during the course of the class. My comments are bolded and Todd’s are in plain text.

(From Todd) Good afternoon, all,

Here is my attempt at the outline.

Inciting Incident: Hilarion discovers medallion This may work if it creates a problem that is clear to him at the time of the discovery.
1) Hilarion decides to seek treasure Which finding the medallion and the ensuing problem that creates tells him he needs to do, I assume?
2) Hilarion leads people through challenges
3) Guillermina wrests control from Hilarion
Resolution: Hilarion defeats Guillermina, reveals "treasure" That looks like the win, but you also need a loss.

My novel is the first in a proposed series, so this Resolution is much more triumph than defeat.  If I had to explain how it is also a defeat, it would take more than a few words.  It is a triumph in that Hilarion discovers the "treasure" (not a physical treasure at all but a rediscovery of his people's heritage and identity) and leads his people to safety from Cuba to Florida, but it is also a defeat in that he has initiated a much deeper ideological battle for the soul of his people against  Guillermina, whose values differ greatly from Hilarion's. Problem with this, Todd, is that you’re stating it in grandiose terms and not in individual terms. A novel is about an individual and a personal problem. Wars and rebellions and all that are simply the setting/backdrop against the individual’s struggle, but it’s the individual that matters. It also doesn’t matter if a novel is part of a series of three or even thirty novels. Each novel needs to stand on its own and follow story convention, and that means the resolution needs to show a character arc and that means there has to be a definite win and a definite loss. On the individual protagonist’s level, not some amorphous “people.”

Moreover, based on concerns expressed by Jenny in my last online course, I am increasingly afraid my novel is too long.  If it’s more than say 100,000 words, probably so. So, grudgingly, I am probably going to have to break it in half. In that case, the first book is going to have to emphasize a plot that would have been a subplot had the novel remained the original length.  That subplot deals with Hilarion and the Silver Man, a demonic figure seeking revenge on him for betraying the other bandits with whom Hilarion was passing time when the novel began.  This does not do violence to the story-worthy problem--the SWP is the M'Brai people's Has to be Hilarion’s SWP, not anyone else’s and certainly not some group’s.  need to understand their identity/heritage, and Hilarion's initial problem and inciting incident grow out of his personal moral shortcomings Can’t work. as a microcosm of those of his people. This is all gobbly-gook, I’m afraid, Todd. You’re posing this in terms of groups of people, i.e., “the story-worthy problem is the M”Brai people’s need to understand their identity/heritage,” and that isn’t what a story-worthy problem is all. It belongs to your protagonist not some “people,” and is an individual, psychological problem. Not some grandiose theme of “a people’s heritage” or some similar muckamuck. A novel is about one person with one problem. Doesn’t matter what the backdrop is or if there’s a cast of thousands—it’s about one person and one problem and his/her struggle to resolve a clear problem. Period.

Plus, novels aren’t based on “morality.” This is a lit professor’s idea of literature and not a writer’s.

Inciting Incident: Hilarion discovers medallion
1) Silver Man chases Hilarion
2) Hilarion leads people through challenges, fleeing Silver Man
3) Hilarion resolves to face Silver Man
Resolution: Hilarion defeats Silver Man but is deposed, abducted Not sure what this outline is for—your second novel? Also, your resolution represents the surface problem resolution but not the more important one—the story-worthy problem.

I don't want to cut against the grain of the course, but I should point out that I developed my story using the structure described in The Anatomy of Story by John Truby.  Basically, the Truby method holds that a story grows out of a single designing principle, and is a series of moral decisions the hero/heroine must navigate in order to reveal and then overcome some fatal weakness and need the character starts out with.  It is difficult to restate this in the 3-Act structure.  I am happy to expound on this, if anyone wants.
You’re not cutting against the grain at all, Todd. Truby simply employs slightly different terms. A “single designing principle” is just another term for a “story problem.” I would take issue with the terms “hero” and “villain” as those don’t exist in good literature. That terminology leads to creating one-dimensional, cartoon characters, ala Dudly Doright and Snidely Whiplash. Also, novels aren’t based on morality. Not at all. Like Samuel Goldwyn said (badly paraphrased) to the wannabe screenwriter: “Don’t send me a script with a message. Send me a story. If you want to send a message, use Western Union. Their business is messages. Ours is story-telling.”

The “fatal weakness” is basically the story-worthy problem—just expressed in somewhat fuzzier terms. And, if a novel can’t be expressed in terms of the three-act structure… then it isn’t a novel. This is the basic form of story. A beginning (inciting incident), a middle (the struggle to resolve the story problem), and an end (the resolution of the story problem.). If this isn’t here, then it’s not a novel.

One thing I’ll mention. I weigh in against English teachers somewhat (that’s being ironical…) in my writing books. Not all English teachers or lit profs… but a lot of ‘em. The reason is, many are so invested in what they learned, that they just keep passing the same bad and archaic info on to their students and they in turn do the same to their students and in turn… The reason is, it takes many years and lots of classes and all that to learn all this stuff and they’ve got a huge investment in time and energy. It’s much easier to just keep parroting the same stuff to generation after generation. A lot of people simply get lazy and don’t want to acknowledge that the language changes and so do the ways stories are created or told. As an example, it’s much easier to tell the class that William Faulkner is a great writer and invented stream-of-consciousness and that one should emulate him when learning to write stream-of-consciousness. They don’t stop to figure that, yes, Faulkner was the co-creator of s.o.c., but that he’s currently… room temperature. That English is a living, breathing, mutating language. That it changes, continually. That today, Faulkner’s version of stream-of-consciousness is considered clunky when compared to today’s practitioners. That a writer such as Gordon Lish does the s.o.c. thing much better than Faulkner ever did. That McMann and Erickson do s.o.c. much better in their TV ads than Faulkner did. That’s because they’ve benefitted from all the advances we’ve made in writing techniques and Faulkner hasn’t because… well, because he’s dead. If he were still living, there’s no doubt he’d once again be the best at it because he was a genius and all that… but he isn’t alive and writers and the craft have gotten better and have passed him by. The point I’m trying to make is that writers are much like many of those English teachers—they learn a certain “system” or whatever and they’ve invested their time and energy (and even money!) into it and they’re loathe to give it up. It represents a significant investment and very few people want to have to go through all the trouble to learn something else. It’s work and hard work. But, writers will always have to keep relearning to write. It changes. We write in English and not Latin, and we have so many stimuli bombarding us every minute and change is constant and if we aren’t aware of those changes and aren’t willing to accept them, we’re pretty much doomed to be that writer whose novels are only “available in their room.”

John Gardner who wrote some famous books on writing told his most famous pupil, Raymond Carver, just before Gardner died, to “forget everything I taught you about writing. It’s all changed and none of what I told you is true any longer.” Gardner was a pretty smart cookie and he was exactly right. It had changed and significantly since his books were published. (Even though there are still some pointy-headed profs still raving about his books and recommending them to their students…) If Gardner were still alive and writing writer’s how-tos, they’d be much different than what he’d written then. We’re far beyond where we were as artists than when he was alive. I know people moan about “the good old days” and there are folks out there who feel the golden age of literature was in the Twenties, but they’re wrong. The best literature ever written is being published today. In 1925 you could name perhaps 10-15 writers who were really good. Today, there are literally hundreds and hundreds of writers working who are infinitely better at what they do that those folks were. Lit profs won’t admit to that (or even know that), because it would erode their purpose in life, but it’s true. The competition today is fiercer than it ever has been and that’s because the competition is infinitely better.

My advice is for writers to use their noodles and be skeptical. Question everything a teacher tells you. Me, included. That doesn’t mean to be argumentative and look for ways to trip ‘em up, but to seriously look at everything put out there. If it makes sense to you and works, use it. If it doesn’t, then don’t. But, don’t hold on to whatever you believe forever. It’ll change. Take it as fact that if you’re successful as a writer, you won’t be writing the same way in ten years. Things will change. For a major one, post-modernism is dead and has been for a couple of decades. You won’t be told that in a lit or writing class in most colleges however. They still think it’s the haute cuisine… It’s like that thing called “literary fiction.” That’s as over as are Model A Fords and has been for some time.

Sorry to be going on so long about this(!), but I think it’s important. Let me give y’all an example from the world of screenwriters that’s a clear parallel to prose writers.

I have a close friend—Lisa Lieberman Doctor—who was one of the top executives in Hollywood. When she was married to her former husband, Hal Lieberman, he was the president of Universal Studios and she ran their prodco. After that, she started up Robin Williams prodco, Blue Wolf Productions, for him. She signed Mrs. Doubtfire, among dozens of other movies for them and ran their production. She also ran the prodco at Warner Bros. and other major studios. She switched gears for awhile and was nominated for a Daytime Emmy for a soap series she wrote for. The L.A. Times named her one of the “10 Most Influential Women Executives in Hollywood.” I’m just trying to establish Lisa’s bona fides here for what I’m about to relate. She’s the real deal. She was the person who could and did get movies made.

We became friends years ago when she read my first writer’s how-to, Finding Your Voice, and emailed me a fan letter and we soon became fast friends. Today, Lisa runs a writer’s group in her home in Malibu and sends me private clients from her group. Among others I’ve coached on their novels (through her recommendation) are Karen (Witter) Lorre (Chuck Lorre’s wife, he of Two and a Half Men, Dharma & Gregg, Roseanne fame as the creator/producer), Bob Rotstein (top Hollywood lawyer, who recently won a $300 million landmark lawsuit case over Dodgeball), and a number of Hollywood movers and shakers who all want to write a novel. Studio heads, top entertainment lawyers, producers and directors, and more than one A-list movie star. I’ve worked with more than half a dozen of some of the biggest names in Hollywood, thanks to Lisa. We talk almost every week and she’s told me a lot of inside things about how Hollywood actually works.

For instance, a couple of years ago I was the co-presenter at the annual Writer’s Institute, one of the top writer’s conventions, held annually at the University of Wisconsin. My co-presenter was a woman whom I won’t name, but who has a bunch of books out on screenwriting, whose name you’d probably recognize if I revealed it. I’d read her books but didn’t think much of them, but she does sell a lot of them. Anyway, I called Lisa to ask her what she thought of the woman. She just laughed and said, she (the woman) was a joke in Hollywood. That she tried to pitch everybody for her own material and nobody took her seriously. That even though she claimed to have sold scripts, she really hadn’t. What she’d done was she got a couple of rewrite jobs from folks like Buck Henry and some other oldtimers who can’t sell these days, and even though they hadn’t used her rewrites, she could technically claim them as her work. Basically, Lisa said she was a lune, and mostly a joke in Hollywood. She went further and named a bunch of other people who write these books on movies and hold seminars and the whole bit and she said the real decision-makers in Hollywood mostly laughed about them and shook their heads at all the folks they were fleecing. She talked about one guy who writes these things where “this plot point has to happen on page whatever” and “this plot point has to happen by page whatever,” and just started laughing. She said they could always recognize the scripts written by those who’d read these people’s books or attended their seminars, and they never sold, or if they did, they sold in spite of the writer following this screwed-up advice. In fact, she said that whole business about having various plot points happen on whatever pages was a complete myth. Lisa said all that ever sold a script was a good story. Nobody looked at where plot points happened or ever would. She said that’s just become a cottage industry that Hollywood insiders just laughed at and wondered who the rubes were who supported it.

Now, Lisa told me all this stuff in confidence. She’d never knowingly hurt anyone’s feelings—I’m a bit different…

She told me another interesting story that illustrates some teachers. She was the expert witness for the winning side in Bob Rotstein’s 20th Century’s case over Dodgeball. She told me the expert witness for the other (losing) side was the chairman of the film department at NYU. She’d call me every week and talk to me about the trial as it was going on. She was shocked, she said, by how ignorant this guy was of the film business. As the trial went on, she said every single time he took the witness chair he revealed how abysmal his knowledge of how Hollywood operated was. She said she felt sorry for the students who were going to school there—paying $45.000 a year to learn from a guy and his profs who didn’t have a clue how the business worked. Before the trial, she’d assumed he was knowledgeable but the trial revealed him to be utterly ignorant about his subject. And, this was NYU—supposedly a good film school! If this was the state of ignorance at a major film school, she wondered what kids at lesser schools were learning. Well, she already knew. Not much and barely anything real. Some are even still teaching people like Syd Fields and those dinosaurs.

We talked over time about some of the guys who hold seminars. There’s one who has one they must have based the movie Burt Reynolds was in on where his love interest took him and his competitor to this guru thing where you couldn’t leave to go to the bathroom or the guru felt hugely insulted. This dude has sro crowds wherever he holds his events and Lisa said they were hysterical. That no one in Hollywood gave him any credence whatsoever, but that the folks in Ames, Iowa and other points in the “Great Flyover” flock to his events and depart “saved.”

The point is, be careful where you get your info from. Sometimes, these things are created by folks who are mostly… good salespeople. Very convincing on the stage and they preach a gospel people want to hear. That YOU CAN MAKE IT! Provided you pony up a couple months’ mortgage money and don’t get up to go to the bathroom during the Grand Poohbahs’ message…

Is this information readily available? Nope. In fact, even those who know some of the realities in the writing game aren’t going to tell you. A few years ago, I wouldn’t have either, but I’m at the age where I’m really getting tired of seeing honest and well-meaning people who just want to master a craft being constantly taken advantage of. There are a lot of charlatans out there…

Kind of like MFA programs… I’ve got one and talk about throwing money away and wasting time… Another day, another subject…

Again, sorry to go on at such length. Just beware of anyone promising a formula for writing a quality story. There isn’t any. It’s really simple. The five statements on our outlines are what all stories are about. There are three acts to any publishable story. The two main elements in story-building are scenes and sequels. Anything crucial in a novel has to be expressed in a scene. Everything derives from that and is subservient to that.

The thing is, many beginners think there are “secrets” to learning to write well. There aren’t. All the “secrets” are in plain sight. Pick up any good book and at the places that affect you emotionally, just look at what the author did. Then, copy the technique. Techniques aren’t copyrighted. The “secrets” are right in front of us.

Now. To your work, Todd! (Finally…) The above was for everyone.

(Remember (everyone) to always send your outline in each time with the work.)

Todd, this came in with space breaks between each paragraph. Went ahead and fixed it.
Hilaríon awoke, heavy-eyed and sore, unsure where he was or how he’d gotten there.
Groaning, he lifted his swimming head. His head was swimming? Hope he had those little floaties on it… J Just need to rephrase this so it doesn’t look like a disembodied head doing the backstroke… Slowly it all came back, shred by terrifying shred: the shred—valley (Colons are considered archaic punctuation in contemporary fiction. As are semicolons, to a lesser degree. Still used in nonfiction, but in fiction these days we employ em dashes instead. It’s less formal and doesn’t reveal the author as much as do colons.) valley, the voices, the collapse and the fall. This is all telling/summary/expositon… backstory. Doesn’t belong at the beginning of a story. He was at the bottom of a cavern, beneath the most forbidden place his people knew. He had gone farther than anyone had ever dreamed, and deeper into peril than anyone had ever dared. He was a pioneer, a heretic, and a reckless fool, all at once. Quite the rap sheet! Problem is, he’s telling us all this stuff and the reader won’t care or become emotionally involved in the least.
He rolled his neck backwards, looking overhead. High above, the first streaks of dawn glimmered through fissures in the ceiling. The night was gone, lost, and now he was trapped—no spoils, no Towns, and no way out. He struggled to his feet, trembling, looking back at the ceiling. How he’d survived the fall he could only guess. No one would believe what had happened to him.  But… since we weren’t there when he fell, it has no impact on us.
And no one would ever find him.
He dragged his feet across the mossy stone. An icy gust filled his eyes and a sound, like a dying beast, rose from the stillness. There was something beside him.
Hilaríon jerked away, drawing his machete. “Who’s there?”
          It didn’t answer.
“Get back!”
It didn’t move.
Hilaríon thrust his blade into the darkness, striking something in a shower of sparks. He pulled away, ready to strike again. Why would he try to kill something sight unseen, and that he doesn’t know if it means him harm or not? This kind of shows him to be a bit skittish, doesn’t it?
“Who are you?”
It said nothing, only moaning, then gurgling, like a drowning animal. Hilaríon edged closer, prodding it with his blade. Whatever it was, it was made of stone—but it breathed. Hilaríon pressed his palms against the stone, quivering, ready to pull away. His eyes widened.  In (Watch two spaces between sentences.) the spreading light, it was coming into view.
He stumbled to the ground in terror. Peering from the gloom was a man’s face.
Through the sinkhole, the rosy flush of morning spilled across the cavern. Looming above him was a pillar, engraved with faces, heaving their icy breath against his trembling flesh. Hilaríon rose, shuddering in the sunlight, terrified and transfixed all at once.
He was surrounded by faces.
One by one, they burst from the darkness: faces of men and woman; faces of elders, infants, large and small; faces of beauty and faces of malice—all their mouths gaping wide, all wrenched in the throes of ecstasy and song. The light revealed others: hundreds—no, thousands—carved in every inch of cavern stone, up and down a cavalcade of sculpted pillars; a churning flood of faces, no two alike.
In the valley above, the wind began to gust, rustling the grasses as it passed. And, he knows this… how? He’s in this cave-dealie and he can hear the grass above rustling? From the pillars, ceiling and walls—from the very stone of the cavern itself—the chorus rose again, resounding through the underworld: the voices of the Wailing Waters in harmony with the morning breeze, no longer ghostly but joyous, no longer terrible but beautiful. Hilaríon retched in cathartic laughter. The voices were nothing more than wind across the open tops of hollow pillars. So… they’re no big deal. Just the wind. Which he can miraculously hear from inside a cave? Sounds like it must have been a hurricane… (Take care that descriptions are logical.)
He sheathed his machete and hunched at the knees, leaning against the pillar and wiping the sweat from his brow until his sleeves were soaked and his trembling legs had settled still.    
Hilaríon raised his head as slowly, his eyes adjusted to the light. The faces were in full bloom, limned by the morning sun, their every crack, blemish, and imperfection (When a writer uses more than one adjective, usually their intent is to make the image more powerful. Alas, the opposite occurs. With each additional adjective, the power is halved. More than one just diffuses the effect.) clear in the light. He blinked, looking closer. Some of the faces were mounted to bodies, and those bodies to arms, and every arm, hand, and finger pointed the same way. His eyes traced their lines across the cavern to an alcove, pulsing with a golden glow. Excellent description here, with the exception noted. Simple, clear language.
He pushed from the stone and stumbled forward, snaking between the pillars towards the light, passing beneath an archway into the alcove. The tarnished gilding of its walls scattered sunlight, illuminating the alcove like a sacristy. In the center stood a plinth, carved from reddish stone. And here.
Hilaríon looked up. Past roots and tangled grasses, at the mouth of a stone shaft, the morning sky shone cobalt blue.
          The way out. And, so… if he’d just lifted his head a minute or so before you couldn’t have had him think--And no one would ever find him—as was written earlier.
          Hilaríon heaved a lusty sigh.  He would escape—he would live—after all. And, his salvation came after a terrible struggle where he had to learn… to look up… The plinth was just tall enough to boost him into the shaft. He grabbed it with both hands and pulled his foot over top—
          “What’s this?”
          He backed away, struggling to keep his footing, and looked closer. The platform atop the plinth was hollowed out, and wedged inside was a marble box. Inscribed on the box lid was an unknown glyph. You have a bunch of line spaces following this and they’re not marked. There’s also no reason for space breaks here. Space breaks are only used when there’s a significant shift in time, place or pov change. And, they are always marked.
          Hilaríon peered up the shaft to the sky, growing bluer by the moment, filled with drifting clouds. The outside world was waiting—Grijalva and Garcíd were waiting, or they’d moved on, thinking him dead or gone deserter. Might want to reconsider these names, Todd. They’re similar and could easily lead the reader into confusing them. Time was his enemy—with each passing hour Grijalva’s rage and Garcíd’s jealousy would only grow, the less likely they’d take him back at all. Alone in a hostile wilderness, without protectors or plan, he’d be short work for rival hilldevils. Again, more setup/backstory. You’re asking the reader to take his word that there’s some kind of danger out there. The intelligent reader is a born skeptic—he/she doesn’t take the writer’s word for anything. We need to see the danger before we believe there is any. This is all telling and just doesn’t work.
          But the box—what was inside? He had to know.(Implied.)
Hilaríon slipped his hands into the hollow and clasped the box, sleek and fluid, (Again, you’re pairing adjectives to force a stronger image and the opposite effect takes place. Also, how is ice “fluid?” like ice.  He (Watch these two spaces between spaces.) squeezed it between his hands, raising it to the platform. His head throbbed, still roiling from the rock, the fruitless chase, and the midnight fall. None of which we’ve seen. He rubbed his temples, licked his lips, and lifted the lid.
Hilaríon gasped, dumbfounded. Inside the box was a golden medallion.
He grasped at the plinth, delirious, not sure whether he’d strayed into a dream. He knit his fingers around the medallion and held it to the light, poring over its fine details—its crevices and cavities and its thousand tiny mysteries, all the while sighing, holding his breath, and then sighing again, as if intoning some ancient rite with sacred relics. He’s really going gaga over this—so far, it looks as if he’s just found a… golden medallion. Hardly worth “gasping” over or a “delirious, not sure he’d strayed into a dream” kind of a gold medallion. Not from what we’re seeing. This is over-the-top, elevated, melodramatic language and description, as is much of this. This is the sure sign of a writer trying to force emotion on the reader via language. That never works. Emotion is only created in the reader when he/she lives through a scene in which something happens that earns the emotion.
Along its edges in golden relief were two beasts, looking like fishes but larger, their every line, groove, and scale wrought with such precision they seemed to wriggle in his hands, gulping for air. Beside them, in smaller reliefs, were humans, swimming alongside the beasts. Poised between the beasts’ snouts was an ellipse, showing a star beside the sun, and between their flukes was another ellipse, showing a star and the crescent moon. Just above each fluke was a hole, bored into the edging, and across the medallion was writing, broken in the center by a circular hollow, illegible. Set in the hollow was the same unknown glyph as on the box lid.
He flipped the medallion over. On the opposite side was a snarl of coils, like a tangled knot, dotted with ovals marked with glyphs, only two of which he recognized: a six-pointed star, and—once again—the unknown glyph from the other side. Hilaríon scratched his head, crinkling his nose. He’d never seen anything to compare with its beauty, nor anything close to its worth.
It was priceless. And he knows this, how? There’s an awful lot of stuff on this medallion. It looks like it needs to be four-five feet in circumference to have all this on it, especially since it’s so clear at a glance to him, up to and including the individual scales on the fish. I think most people assume something of medallion-size to be a bit smaller and probably not able to include all that he’s seeing here.
The sun reared its fiery head over the shaft, bathing the alcove in light. Something caught Hilaríon’s eye, hewn in the alcove wall. He lowered the medallion, cradling it in his hands, and sidled around the plinth. Carved in the corroded metal, cracked and faded by the rigors of time, was an inscription. He drew closer, straining his eyes, and read aloud. Todd, you’ve got an extra line space following this and then you’ve got the poem single-spaced. It needs to be double-spaced. The editor will single space it for the print version, but the writer double-spaces it. I’ll go ahead and fix it. If you want to separate it out from the other text, use a space break and be sure to mark it. Also, just wondering why he would read it out loud? If he reads it out loud, it requires quote marks around it, and you wouldn’t center it like you have but present it as dialog. I’d just have him read it silently as most folks would and then you can present it as you are, centered and in poetic form.
Voices of the black abyss
In benthic depths, your sires’ cry
Leads the weary wanderers on
Yet falls to silence by and by
At journeys end the ancients’ gift
Remembered well but never known
The light rekindled in the dark
And gained by force of will alone
A shapeless path through ruthless isle
A golden heart which marks you true
A timeless hymn proclaimed at last
Each deeper ere it came to you
In vicious spite the taunting trace
Of shifting sand, capricious field
A crippling mole at length unmasked
The sinews of a race revealed
For passage made is passage meant
Though darkness shroud each cursed day
A steadfast captain ever bound
Whose twisting heirloom shows the way
He pulled from the wall, smarting, and read the inscription again, then again, then once more and yet again, until his boyish wonder-why This is an observation from outside his third-person pov. No one describes themselves this way. This is from an omniscient stance and omniscient povs are very archaic and almost impossible to get published today. dissolved in gall. Benthic depths? Capricious field? Twisting heirloom? It was meaningless. I agree…
The wind drifted past in the valley above, and again the voices of the Wailing Waters sang, before falling deathly still. Hilaríon looked at the gaping faces in the stone. What had once seemed grand and moving now seemed foolish—a tragic caricature of his race. What had looked like wayward souls shouting monumental tidings from the depths of time was but a riddle. Silence, as ever, reigned supreme. Totally melodramatic, purple prose.
He thought of the silence that had rung down the ages—silence that should have been the voices of ancestors, the songs of his people’s roots, the words of wisdom preached into the great collective ear of his kin, pointing the way to prosperity. Instead, that silence had bred indolence, and forgetfulness. He was a boy, in a cave, with a newfound prize.
And that prize belonged to him. So… how is this a problem?
He stroked the medallion in his fingers, delighting at his fortune.  The (Watch two spaces between sentences.) Devils Three, in a year, couldn’t collect even half its worth. It would fetch a king’s ransom in the Towns—no, the Cities. Hilaríon’s eyes rolled backward in his skull and his skin turned eager gooseflesh, as the word and its every splendor wafted through his mind. He’s showing swooning signs just by thinking of a name? Wow! And, what is “eager gooseflesh?” This is purple prose, magnified to the nth degree. Lord Bulwer-Lytton is turning green in his grave with envy, wishing he’d said this.
La Habana.
He said it aloud, sampling its nectar, letting it drip from his lips and from his imagination, pooling thick in the basin of his cravings. I’m sorry, Todd, but I’m throwing up in my mouth. Just a little… Stop it, please… “La Habana,” he whispered, running the medallion along his neck. “Better days.”
Hilaríon closed his hand around the medallion, hiding it beneath his cloak. Grijalva and Garcíd never needed to know. Why go back to them at all? They’d only take the medallion from him, penance for a botched ambush, or make him share it, third among equals as they held him, or something altogether worse. Grijalva already wanted him dead—that was no secret. Garcíd kept Grijalva at bay, but even Garcíd had his price. What was there for him but toil, and danger, and sleepless nights with one eye open? Again, more backstory/setup. 
The outside world was vast, and bright, and warm, beckoning him with outstretched arms. Deep inside, he’d always known it to be true. Those were his tomorrows, something the life of a hilldevil could never promise or deliver. That was where he had to be—out of the hills and out of the west, charging into the swirling eddy of a life unlived. Melodramatic, purple prose. Is he channeling Thoreau? Or, more accurately, Thoreau as rewritten by Bulwer-Lytton?
There were better days ahead.
Hilaríon buried the medallion in his pocket and climbed back onto the plinth. Groping at the stones he winched himself into the shaft and spread his legs, wedging himself inside. He grunted, stretching tall. Ahead, the shaft tapered to a winding crevice. The air grew warmer, drenched with the welcoming smells of the marsh—the vibrant, colorful earth calling him forth. He heaved himself upwards, pushing and pulling against the crevice walls, stumbling, rising, and stumbling again, flanked by dirt and tumbling pebbles, until exhausted, legs and arms cut to ribbons, he clambered into daylight.
The sun hung above the east, the crown jewel in a glorious tiara of haystack hills. He pulled the medallion from his pocket, admiring it in the sunlight, even more brilliant than it had seemed beneath the earth. He grinned, feeling the warmth of the morning sun and the hot promise of La Habana against his face, cooled only by the kiss of a wandering breeze.
And then they returned, one final time: the voices of the Wailing Waters, neither frightful nor proud but wretched—vaguely sad, as if mourning some great loss. But what were they but a chorus of the past, a threnody for a doomed people and a lost world? His better days spread wide before him. He buried the medallion in his pocket and tore off towards the Eastbound Road, parting the tall grasses as he ran.
Grijalva and Garcíd stood in the roadway.
Todd, I’m afraid there’s no story problem or even the hint of one on the page as of yet and we’re eight pages into the narrative. At this point, all we’ve seen is he’s found this medallion… and that’s it. No problem whatsoever. Remember the definition: The inciting incident is something that happens to the protagonist that creates and/or reveals the story problem. Finding this medallion may ultimately prove to be a problem, but at this point it isn’t. Look carefully at the definition, especially the words in italics. It has to be revealed to him at the time of the inciting incident that he has a problem. If he has one or if it will prove that the medallion creates one, then the moment he realizes he has a problem occasioned by whatever happens then is the inciting incident. The problem absolutely must be clear to him at that moment and remain clear the rest of the novel. None of that is happening here. And, it has to be a problem, not an opportunity.

Not only that, but there’s no conflict happening here whatsoever. We get a bunch of setup/backstory but unfortunately, that’s all telling/exposition and doesn’t impact in the least on the reader.

This is the single biggest error most writers make in their beginnings. Starting with backstory/setup. Just not done any more with contemporary fiction. Readers today expect a story to begin with a compelling problem and they expect a scene that delivers that problem.

The other problem is that you’re trying to create emotion in the reader with flowery, elevated language. This is just chockfull of purple prose. You simply cannot force emotion on the reader this way. The only thing that elicits emotion from the reader is by the reader living through a scene right along with the protagonist.

You’re making a basic mistake here. You’re doing the same thing students do in high school when they first try to write poetry. Here’s what happens. The tyro poet feels some kind of great emotion—at that age, usually because Sally or Sam threw him over for someone else who had a newer Playstation. They feel all this “emotion” and when they set out to write a poem, they describe the emotion they feel. But, they neglect to deliver the scene or act that created that emotion. They bring to the task all the elevated language they’re capable of—lots of stuff expressed alliteratively about tears (usually a lone tear coursing down the cheek), and using every adjective in the book. But, it’s not poetry and it doesn’t work. It’s telling the reader the writer feels all this deep emotion and tries to force the emotion they feel on the reader via language. And, that can never work. What will work—and the ones who learn this go on to have their poetry published—is to create a poem where they take the reader through the scene where the girl/guy broke up with them. Then, they don’t need to have “a lone tear coursing down their cheek.” If they simply write that breakup scene with skill, the reader will have their own tear streaking down their cheek, although hopefully the tears will come in pairs and not as a solo act. Nothing too emotional about a blocked-up tear duct…

Anyway, this is the primary problem here. You’re trying to use language in a way that doesn’t work. What I’d suggest is to rent a dump truck, load all this purple prose and elevated language into it, drive out to the dump… and dump it.

Then, write a scene where something happens. A scene with conflict. Which means people interacting. A scene that creates an inciting incident which creates and/or reveals a compelling problem. A clear problem—both to the protagonist and also to the reader.

Let’s say that this medallion does lead to a story problem that will occupy him the rest of the story. Let’s say it begins when the “G” boys find out he’s got it. And they try to take it away from him and if that happens, maybe then he’s got a problem. Maybe one of them reveals that this is the “Magic Medallion of Matasucki” and that whoever possesses it has the key to Something Important. At that point, provided he wants to keep it, he has a surface problem. And, if that’s the case, that’s the inciting incident and where the story needs to begin. Not when he finds it if all that happens is that he finds it and it’s a really cool piece of jewelry. That’s not a problem in the least.

If how he found it is somehow important (as it’s written now, it isn’t), then bring that in later. But, the first thing the reader should encounter is a scene in which the story problem is created and/or revealed. Not even ten minutes before that happens. Only at the time it happens. Anything that happens before the inciting incident is backstory and contemporary (and publishable) fiction simply can’t begin with backstory. Make sense?

I get the feeling, Todd, that you’ve worked on this story for a long time and have a lot of material. That means you’re heavily invested into it and are probably proprietary about it. That’s understandable and very human! But, if it’s not working then it doesn’t matter how many months or years the writer has spent on it, nor how many hundreds of pages have been written. It won’t matter if the writer has 500 words or 500 pages if it doesn’t work. If it can be salvaged or part of it salvaged, that’s great, but if it can’t be, then the sooner it’s put aside and work begins on something that can work, the better. Is that hard to do? Well, sure! And, for some it may be impossible. Only that writer knows. The thing is, even in the worst case scenario—let’s say none of it is salvageable—that’s not a bad thing. It just means that writer is even closer to success. He or she has just learned a huge and valuable lesson—what won’t work. Which makes the writer a giant step closer to publication.

I don’t have a clue if the rest of what you have with this novel can work. Only you can decide that. But, if the feedback you’ve gotten or may get from the gatekeepers says it isn’t publishable, then I’d pay attention to what they’re saying. All I know is that the work here isn’t and really isn’t even close. That’s a tough thing to hear, I know. And, it’s just one person’s opinion. I do think that’s the same opinion you’ll get from just about any agent or editor, at least from this sample. There are two ways you can go.

The good news is that you do have considerable writing talent. That’s evident from this paragraph (with a few small edits). Look at the writing here:

Hilaríon raised his head as slowly, his eyes adjusted to the light. The faces were in full bloom, limned by the morning sun, their every imperfection clear in the light. He blinked, looking closer. Some of the faces were mounted to bodies, and those bodies to arms, and every finger pointed the same way. His eyes traced their lines across the cavern to an alcove, pulsing with a golden glow.

Someone who can write this paragraph can flat-out write. If a writer can write a good sentence, he can write two. It means he can also write 2,000 good sentences. Your talent’s not the problem—it’s how you’re using it. This is just a wake-up call and I hope you see it as such.

Hope this helps!

Blue skies,

And that’s our early exchanges in class. Todd sent me a signed copy of his book along with this series of exchanges we had in discussing it in progress. When I asked him if I could post this as a blogpost, this is what he said:


Attached is what I believe you're looking for. I still get chills reading it, although they're good chills now. I would be honored to be featured in your blog, and would be happy to participate in it any way you might want.

Hope this is of some help to other writers with similar writing problems. Also, it shows how our online class works. We rarely have an opening but we can take on limitless auditors and if you opt for that, this is the kind of exchanges you’d be privy to. Auditing is a good deal I believe, for only $50 for each 10-week session.

Blue skies,


Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Smart, funny, tension-filled new novel!

Hi folks,

Many of you here know Kristen Lamb the wise guru of social media. She’s now set her hand to writing fiction and recently came out with her rookie effort, a thriller titled THE DEVIL’S DANCE.

Click on the cover to go to the Amazon link.

The book that Kristen gives way too much credit for...
what a cynic might call a "humble/brag"

Me and Kristen at the DFW  Writer's Convention

She asked me to blurb it and I agreed because… well, just because you don’t say no to Ms Lamb. When I sent her my blurb, I got this email from her:

OMG thank you!

This is beautiful and I need to frame it! You have no idea. I bought your book (HOOKED) early 2008. I immediately made everyone in my writing group get it (though I think i was the only one who read it). My mom loves it and she isn't even a writer. I have easily read it six times and get something new every time.

And then misplace it and buy another copy.

Anyway, so I had this imaginary bar set in my mind that ONE DAY. ONE DAY I'd write something you'd be proud of even before I met you! That you'd go, THAT is why I wrote "Hooked."

Seriously, I need to send you the first pages of the novel I was shopping when I came across "Hooked"...except I like you and that manuscript is not potty trained.

Getting a blurb from you for "Rise of the Machines" was a big deal but NOTHING like this.

Her book is kind of a big deal for me because a first novel isn’t usually this good. It’s a remarkable piece of work. It just goes to prove that anyone with talent (many) and perseverance (rare) and the ability to take constructive criticism (very rare!) can create a publishable book.

If you saw the first draft of what Kristen sent me a couple of years ago and compared it to what she ended up with, you’d easily see the veracity of that last sentence.

Here’s my blurb:

Blurb for Kristen Lamb’s novel, THE DEVIL’S DANCE

I picked up Kristen Lamb’s debut novel, THE DEVIL’S DANCE, fully expecting to be reading what I anticipated as a decent first effort at fiction—and was instantly dissuaded of that notion—finding instead totally mesmerized by a book of the quality normally reserved for those best-selling, rave review-garnering, masters of thriller novels. I was totally gobsmacked. Lamb has crafted a work of immense worth. It’s truly remarkable in its maturity, level of writing, and most important, level of entertainment. We often see reviews where they trot out that hoariest of clichés—“It was so good I couldn’t put it down,” except in this case that’s not even close to an exaggeration, but the honest damned truth. Be assured this is no “beginner’s first effort.” This is leagues above that. Already, I’ve placed it on the shelf of “Best Books of the Year That I’ve Read.” It most certainly is. I won’t give you a synopsis—that’s already done for you on the
Amazon page, but if my opinion means anything to you, I urge you to run right out and buy this novel. Lamb is just one smart cookie who doesn’t seem to fail at any enterprise she sets her hand to. Make room on your bookshelf for a writer of uncommon and rare talent.

And… what a totally entertaining book!

--Les Edgerton, author of Hooked, Finding Your Voice, The Genuine, Imitation, Plastic Kidnapping, The Death of Tarpons and others.

Get out and pick up a copy. If you like it, take a few minutes and write an Amazon and/or Goodreads review. It’s the single best thing you can do for a writer whose work you enjoy.

Blue skies,