Time to (Re)Read A Moveable Feast?

Can’t let this pass without mentioning it.

I’ve had a lot of fun over the years making fun of Hemingway, I admit it. But A Moveable Feast is a great little novel. And obviously, the Paris attacks have been on everyone’s mind this past week. Today, I was very moved to see Hemingway’s memoirs of his younger days in 1920s Paris skyrocket to the top of the bestseller charts in France.

It’s interesting to see a book by an American author heralded as an exemplar of French culture. But you know what? It is. A book written by a Midwesterner is, for me, one of the greatest touchstones of French culture. It’s full of cafes, and writers and great art. What could be more French than that? HemingwayLoeb

And it’s full of great quotes like this one:

There is never any ending to Paris and the memory of each person who has lived in it differs from that of any other. We always returned to it no matter who we were nor how it was changed nor with what difficulties now what ease, it could be reached. It was always worth it and we received a return for whatever we brought to it.

Well put.

So, here’s a suggestion. Get a copy of the book: physical or digital, it doesn’t matter. And take it out to a café this weekend, order the most insane caffeinated drink you can imagine, tip well, sit down and read the book. And celebrate French culture along with Hemingway. Whether you’re in Paris, or anywhere else in the world. I can’t think of a better way to stick it to the dark forces which struck the City of Light last Friday. Hey, Hemingway would do it if he was still around. Don’t you think?

And believe me, I’ll be right there with you. Except, truth be told, I’ll probably be writing. All for now.

Until next time,


50 Rejections…and Counting

So, a strange thing happened on the way to racking up 50 rejection letters. That’s right. For those of you wondering, I have submitted my various stories and New Yorker Rejectionnovellas to magazines 50 times and 50 times, those stories have ended up being rejected (according to my Duotrope submission tracker). But here’s the funny thing that happened. I only noticed it after I got the 51st rejection. That 50th rejection passed without notice. I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t check my email every 12 hours and sullenly delete the rejection email. The 50th rejection was just one of many, one that I didn’t even notice. So, what I have I learned from this trail of rejection? Here are a few key takeaways:

The First Cut Is the Deepest
My first rejection? Yep, that hurt. Ain’t gonna lie. It was a rejection from Lightspeed for my story “The Hatchlings.” It was a very professional rejection letter and very prompt (only took them 1 day to turn it around). And from a top magazine that accepts very few stories. In other words, I had no reason to think I would have one of my stories accepted right off the bat. But, man it stung. My writing…Out there, being judged by someone else…And they rejected me. Me! The gall! I calmed down a bit, and that same day I sent out the story to the next magazine. Eventually, I got the second rejection and that hurt too, but not as much. The third hurt even less. And one day, it found the right editor and got published in Fiction Vortex. The thrill of getting a pieced accepted washed away all the bad feeling of those previous rejections.

Somewhere Around about Rejection 25—You don’t really notice it any more.
So, I kept writing, kept editing and kept sending in stories. The rejections piled up. You get your 5th, 10th and 25th rejection. And by about that time…You get to this point where you open your email, see the rejection slip and think “Hmm, that sucks.” It’s more like a mosquito sting than an amputation. I might let the story sit for a day or two, but more likely I’ll  find another market that same day and send it on its way.

I can’t even recall my 25th rejection, whatever it was, it didn’t have much of an impact on me.

It Helps Realizing How Much Other Writers Get Rejected
Somehow, there’s this myth that the great writers never have to deal with much rejection. While there are exceptions to this rule, there is the story about Stephen King that is great. It goes that he received so many rejection slips that a nail could no longer hold them all on the wall and it had to be replaced with a spike. I have also covered previously, Lou Antonelli’s assertion that you should have about 25 rejections per story before you decide to give up on the piece.

Yes, other professional writers who have published way more than you face rejection again and again. That’s the reality of the profession. You’re going to have to deal with it.

You Do Want to Follow Those Submission Guidelines—Exactly
It’s true that magazines will reject you outright if you do not follow their submission guidelines. I know. It’s happened to me. They usually say something: “check submission guidelines.”

Don’t do this to yourself, it’s not a good feeling. It’s not even giving the story you slaved over a chance. It’s being rejected simply because it’s the wrong computer file, wrong font or is the clearly wrong subject matter.

Don’t waste your time and the magazine’s by sending in something out of guidelines. Don’t do it. Take it from someone who has—it’s not a good feeling.

You Just Have to Keep Going—Whatever Your Response May Be
Epictetus said that it is often not events we experience that overwhelm us, but our response to them (or something to that effect). If one dwells repeatedly on a past traumatic event replaying it constantly over and over, it’s likely to drag you down. But if you’re able to somehow take that event for what it was, compartmentalize it to a degree, you’re better positioned to view it realistically for what it was worth and move on. (A gross oversimplification, I know, but bare with me a minute).

I’m not one to give you some trite pablum like: “Write like you’ve never been rejected.” People respond differently to rejection. For some, it makes them angry. And anger has produced some great writing. That whole feeling of “I’m going to show them this time,” a la Kingsley Amis. Others might just shrug it off—mostly—though it lingers in the mind. The key is, whatever your reaction: keep going.

It can be compared to jumping in a cold pool. You don’t want to do it at first, you know it’s going to be uncomfortable. But you have to jump in. And when you do, yeah, it IS uncomfortable at first (those first rejections sting), but with each passing minute it’s less and less uncomfortable and after awhile you don’t even notice the cold…That is until you get hypothermia and go into shock…At which point this metaphor hopelessly breaks down.

Anyway, here’s to rejection 52, 53 and 100. As long as I keep getting rejected, I figure it proves I’m still writing, I’m still trying. And even if I fail, I hope to “fail better” each time. In the end, that’s all any writer or artist can hope for. I hope that makes Epictetus smile—wherever he is.

And 1,000 Twitter followers later…
In other news, I’ve got 1,000 followers on Twitter now, which is kind of a cool milestone. It’s actually a pretty useful tool for finding and connecting with other writers and artists. If you want to follow my daily writing activities, the books I’m reading, the thoughts I’m having, etc.—it’s a great way to track them. You can find my handle here. If you’re a human (who doesn’t spam others constantly), there’s a good chance I’ll even follow back.

See you next time,


Writing, Submitting, Thinking

Guys, back at the blog again and I have little to say here for the time being. I wanted to do a longer piece today, but I’m just not feeling it. So instead of forcing the issue, here’s a little update on my writing.

I wrote a blown-out outline of a novella last weekend. It was part of my attempt to write more detailed outlines before I dive into a piece. I was happy with some of the scenes and the emotions they conjured…but…I feel that there is a significant logic problem with the plot, one I knew about all along. That logic problem is stopping me from moving forward with it until I figure out the problem. So…Bottom line: I’m going to put this one on the backburner for now. Going to let the subconscious work on that logic problem and see if it can figure it out. It’s usually pretty good at that.

That means that now I have to move onto a new work’s first draft. I’ll be selecting one soon and starting work on it. More on that below…

Got to keep submitting. I’m still sending in my latest stories. I think they’re tight and well written. And I’ve noticed that the time to review them is taking longer. I think of this as a good sign: it usually (but not always) means that your piece is going through more gatekeepers before it gets rejected. Of course, a rejection is a still a rejection—whether it takes one day or 120 days. Your piece still doesn’t get published. But in the past I’ve noticed that the best pieces always take longer to get rejected from the get go than the merely “OK” pieces. They’re probably getting through the initial slush readers and moved up to editors before they are turned aside. So, if that’s any indication, these stories just haven’t found the right editors yet.

I’m hoping in time they will and I’ll be able to share them with you.

As always, I’m thinking, thinking, thinking. Thinking up new ideas and writing them down. Fleshing out older ideas and writing up their plot points. I’ve even created a new “Story Ideas-Ranking” to help me rank my story ideas according to their ripeness. It’s a short list with two categories: Stories that are pretty much ready for a first draft and those that need more work. I don’t rank those in the second part, but I do rank the ones in the first. What makes a story ripe is the passion I have for the story idea, how well-defined the story is, and whether I’ve done a full formal prewrite (describing the plot, setting, characters and research needed). I take all those factors, push around the ideas on the page and one emerges on top. That’s the theory anyway.

So, this weekend, I’ll take a look at the ranking, think about which one deserves to be done next. And dive in.

Hey, “Get Black on White,” right? That’s the only way to get it done. Always has been, always will be.

Alright. See you next time,


The Craft: How to Hunt and Destroy Gerunds

[This is part of a continuing series on the art of writing fiction.]

Today’s post is for the writers out there. I’m going to put forward one quick, easy method to sharpen your later drafts. It’s a method that’s simple, but also has a little technological A Gerundtrick to it.

First thing, I’m going to assume you hate gerunds. You know, those words in English that end in –ing. Like walking, talking, etc. One thing I’ve noticed and come to loathe is the use of gerunds in my writing…Dammit…Wait…That one didn’t count…

Anyway, if you don’t hate gerunds, you should. They tend to make sentences and action weaker. And they can interrupt the flow of your story too. Just look at these sentences:

Burke was walking down the street. As he came to the intersection, he was thinking about last night, wondering if Carol had really meant what she said.

or try this:

Burke walked down the street. He came to the intersection, thought about last night and wondered if Carol had really meant what she said.

The second version, is objectively better, just like Ayn Rand said. (I jest). But seriously, I think most people would agree that the second version is stronger and better. Why? The use of verbs in their simple form without –ing, make less passive, they are stronger and  more direct.

So, how do you find and kill these little bastards? It’s easy. You can do it one by one, of course. But the best thing to do is a keyword search in your word processor. Just search for “ing” and you’ll be surprised at how often they crop up. (I was shocked the first time I did this, in fact. I had no idea I wrote so many sentences with gerunds in them.) Once you search, all you have to do is reword the sentence, usually by using the infinitive (put “to” in front of the verb) or putting it in the simple past tense. You’ll be amazed at how a little freshening up like this will help your piece.

And what about adverbs?
Some have said that adverbs (words usually ending in “ly” in English) deserve the same treatment as gerunds: get rid of them. Elmore Leonard did not like to use adverbs to modify the verb “said.” That, at least, is a pretty good idea.

I can’t go there with people who think we should get rid of ALL adverbs, but they can be used as a crutch in situations where the reader should have been able to infer how something was being done from the action and the characters. Besides, if you’re getting rid of adverbs, getting rid of adjectives can’t be far behind. Then, you’re only left with nouns and verbs and a very gray world…but I digress.

So, how to get rid of those adverbs? You got it, do a keyword search for “ly” and, again, you’ll be surprised at what crops up. I don’t always ax the adverbs, but I usually do. It’s trickier fixing them because you have to find a way to subtly make it known how things are done without hitting your reader over the head with an adverb.

But isn’t that what the craft part of writing is all about?

See you next time,


Forging Ahead—with New Stuff

“Silence is a source of great strength,”—so says Lao Tzu (or something like that). And yet here I am blogging… Anyway…Laozi

Wow. 2 weeks have passed by in a flash. It’s frustrating when my day job gets out of control like it is right now. It means that the fiction writing suffers. And the blog? Well, it becomes just an afterthought. This was the first time in a long time when I really drew a blank on what to write here on the blog. Thus, the Lao Tzu quote. So, in a nod to the time I have had to sacrifice to earning a living, I’m just going to give you a quick cut on where my writing’s at. Here are the stories I’m working on right now:

Finally got this down to where I like it. On the recommendation of an editor (of a magazine I sent it to), I axed the entire first chapter. And I’m finally pleased with where this ended  up. I’m still waiting to hear back from various editors on an earlier version of this story. In the meantime, I’ll be submitting the new version to see if it garners any interest.

Got to input some changes on the draft of this piece and then decide what to do. I think it will need a little more work before I start submitting it. But overall, I’m pretty pleased where it ended up.

New Stuff/Project Selection
After I figure out what to do with those two stories above, the non-fun act of selecting what work to begin next starts. I like to begin new projects, to write first drafts, but it’s tough to select new stories to start. I dip into my pre-writing notes on my computer. It’s often difficult to decide which stories are ripe for the plucking. It’s not a science, that’s for sure. You have to judge how good the idea is overall and how well-formed it is in your mind. That is, how close it is being a blown-out, mature story. Just the seed of an idea—no matter how good—is enough to start a story. It’s not easy deciding which story idea to finally commit to.

So, wish me luck. I will put Pacha-Mama to bed somehow, and then decide on my next fiction piece. I’ll let you guys know what I decided next time I post in a couple of weeks.

See you then!

A Writer’s Equipment

Thought I would do something a little different today. I spend a lot of time talking about what I write, the craft of writing and all that stuff. But I want to take a play out of the musicians’ playbook and tell you what I write on. Guitarists in particular, will often list what guitars and amps they use. For example, there’s Slash’s preference for Les Paul guitars and Marshall amps. Bill Writes

But what do writers use these days? Surely, they don’t use quills and parchment, always sure to keep their pet monkey near by?

To put it simply, what does this writer use to write? Well,  here is a list of everything I take with me in my backpack when I go writing at the café each weekend:

  • Computer—A Dell Inspiron N411Z. With Intel Core i3 processor at 2.3 GHz with 4 GB of RAM. Nothing too fancy.
  • Operating system—Windows 7 Home. I’ve used Windows PCs for a long time and don’t see stopping now. I’m used to them and I feel I get better value for the money than with Apple. (Sorry, Mac lovers!). And no, I don’t think Windows straitjackets my creativity.
  • Writing software—Word 2010. Again, nothing fancy. It gets the job done. I might want to use something different if I go into writing scripts/plays, but I don’t think I would.
  • Red pens(2)—Uni-ball Micro red pens. I only use these when I have to markup/edit/proof the hard copy of one of my manuscripts (for more on that, see below). They seem to work well and, most importantly, don’t leak.
  • Pencils—A couple of Number 2 pencils, the brand doesn’t matter.
  • Chocolate—Chocolate, to me, is the most amazing stimulant ever created. It gives you energy, mellows you out a bit, yet sharpens your mind. It puts your right where you want to be for serious mental work. I have about 2-3 squares of my favorite chocolate bar with a dark coffee or black tea and I’m ready to get writing. I prefer something with a lot of cocoa, like Scharfen Berger’s 82% cocoa bar. So good.
  • A random book—I almost always bring a book (or sometimes, my Kindle) to read to get my brain warmed up for writing. After about 30 minutes of reading I’m usually ready to start writing my own stuff. The whole time I’m reading, I’m marking up favorite passages with my #2 pencil. In fact, I can’t read a book without a pencil anymore.
  • Print outs (when needed)—When I get to a third or fourth draft, I print out the manuscript and bring the sheets (single-sided with wide margins for easier editing) to the café and set to work proofing/editing them with my red pen.

First, NONE of these are endorsements and no one has paid me to mention the products above or to use them. They are simply what I prefer. I just want to list them to satisfy my (future) curiosity about the tools I use to write.

As you see, I like to keep it simple. I have written on computers since I was about 15 years old (that should date me, right there!) and can’t imagine writing on anything besides a notebook PC or tablet. I’ll post this list on a new section on the website which I will update over time. Look at this as a first cut to list the equipment I use to write and a sort of time capsule for how we wrote in 2015.

A writing update

Before I go, I wanted to give you an update on my writing.

As I previously said, I’m almost done with a new story “Pacha-Mama.” I hope to wrap editing on that piece up this weekend.

I’m also still sending two short stories around to editors. I have a number of rejections piled up, but no acceptances yet. I’ll keep you posted on the progress on all of these.

Finally, the clouds at work have cleared, so I should be able to write more freely and often now. Which is a great thing…So, until next time…

Keep reading, keep writing,


When the Dust Settles

Hey, everybody.

It’s a been a really busy month. Work—you know, that day job—has really gone off the hook this month. In a bad way. I was trying to take work stuff down a notch, but that ain’t happening. In fact, it’s getting more intense. And it’s doesn’t look like that will clear up until the middle of September. Sigh…A dust storm envelops houses in Stratford, Texas, 1935. These massive storms, called ‘black blizzards’ or ‘black rollers,’ could reduce visibly to just a few feet.

Anyway, what am I getting at? The first thing I cut back on in my free time is the writing of this blog, so I had to do that this this time. The fiction writing is even suffering a little bit, but it’s for a good cause. I’m thinking about which story to start next. And I have a good plan for wrapping up the story I’m working on right now. So, there’s definitely more of that to come.

When the dust settles, I’ll be back to the blog here to update you all on what’s going on. Until then, I leave you with this little piece on today’s Hugo awards. And the promise that I’ll be writing more stories soon and posting here on the blog.

Until then,


Short Story Title Reveal: Pacha-Mama

…and I’m back.

Back to work, back to writing, back to civilization, which after all, is simply writing + fermentation, like Faulkner said(?). It’s true that it’s hard to think of a civilizacelebracion_pacha_mama_01.jpg_2033098437tion that didn’t have BOTH. Just think about it. The Mayans, the Babylonians, ancient Chinese, ancient Persians, Egyptians. They all had the two…but I digress…

What have I been up to? Writing-wise that is? I’ve finished off a new short story…It actually runs a bit long to about 8,000 words. It’s called Pacha-Mama and I’ve sent it off to a few of my Beta readers. Initial feedback has been good: I need to polish the work and figure out a few of the transitions a bit better. Overall, I feel pretty good about it. I’m going to give my B-readers a little more time to get back to me and then I’ll hit it again. Smooth out those remaining parts, proofread it and then start the submission process. I don’t want to talk too much about it here, I’ll only add that the idea came to me after a trip to Peru a couple of years ago. I was sitting on the deck in our hotel on Taquile Island watching a big storm blow in from the Amazon across Lake Titicaca and it hit me. Or should I say the kernel of the story’s main idea began there?

Anyway, more on that later. I just wanted to get down a few things I think I got right on the latest story. The common thread in the two is that I did what worked for me—Darius—as a writer. Some might be able to write a story without plotting it first. Some might be able to write a piece thinking “This is going to be young adult urban fantasy” or “This will be Islamic steampunk.” And good for them! They can do it and should. But for me, I know it would never work.

So, here are two things I did with this story that I’m proud of:

1. I plotted the hell out of it.
I wrote a detailed plot arch outline before I started writing. You know, with an introduction, rising tension, climax and resolution. As I wrote, when I got caught or something didn’t make logical sense, I stopped. One day in particular, a day I was intending to keep jamming on the first draft, I realized something didn’t quite make sense. I didn’t panic. I just came to a full stop. I stared at the screen, thought about the consequence of the action on the page and worked out a solution. I spent an hour or so doing that. Once I had the solution, I went ahead and kept writing.

That’s how this story went. That strict plotting let me write more freely once I had it in place. That structure helped guide my writing and how far it could go before I had to reel it in.

2. I wrote without a thought about what genre it would fall in.
I originally thought this was a horror piece, but going along I realized that wasn’t quite right. It makes sense much more as a fantasy piece or, if you will, a piece of urban fantasy. The bottom line is that the story and the characters come first. They dictate what your story is. They had to bring forth the truth of this story and, in tone at least, I had to follow where they led. (Yes, I’m aware this contradicts 1 above somewhat). So, I just wrote it. And you know what? As soon as I wrote the last word of the last line, I knew it wasn’t horror. I knew it was something else. After a little thought, I decided what it was: fantasy.

So, that’s it. A little recount of the writing of my latest story. Like I said, I’ll be working on it in the coming weeks and then submitting it. I also am continuing to submit my earlier works. No editors seem to be biting yet, but I’m confident it’s only a matter of time.

Until next time,


Vacation Time

Fink Beach

Taking a little break. It’s the summer and I’m on vacation, so not much time to update the blog. Or write. I’ll do a bigger post when I return on August 14.

Until then, I’ll be wrapping up a draft  of my latest short story “P” and resubmitting some stories that I’ve already finished. Just so you know it’s not all vacation.

Will see you all again soon with some more updates on where my writing is going.


Elmore Leonard’s Rules for Writing
To tide you over until I return, here’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately: Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules for Writing. Great stuff here and lots of modern writing seems to follow his rules. His points keep on rolling around in my mind.

Alright, I’m out of here. Till next time…

Writing Update and…Short Stories Reconsidered?

[Part of a continuing series on where my fiction writing is at.]

Another update today on my writing and a little introspection further down the page.

I’m a little over half way done with a second draft of my new short story, “P.” I’m going to hold back on the title reveal until the second draft is in the can. That’s partly  because I don’t know if I’m satisfied with the story’s working title. Also, I would like to get the second draft (for me, always the hardest draft) done and off to Beta readers before I start promoting it. I just want to make sure the piece hangs together and works, before I start promoting or talking about it.

Which brings us to…

The Other Stories
I have three other stories I’m submitting now to magazines. I’m going to keep submitting those until they reach about 20 rejections. (This is based on some earlier feedback on my “rejection tolerance”). Then, it’ll be time to think about retiring (“trunking”) the ones which pass that threshold. So far, none of them have reached it. There is one, however, that’s getting close.

So much for the writing update…On to more interesting matters…

Short stories—reconsidered?
I may be getting a little “burnt out” on short stories. I have always felt I’m a writer who likes to write long. I have a lot of difficulty keeping my tales to the 7,500 words (or less) standard limit for short stories. I simply want to expand on scenes, characters, etc. to what I consider a “natural” length. Even my short pieces tend to be long: “The Ghul of Yazd” was over the 7,500 word limit for a short story.

In addition, many of my ideas tend to be for longer pieces. If you’re looking for someone to blame for this, blame my characters or Russian novelists. I can’t seem to stuff the best characters into a 7,500-word story. They just won’t have it. They’re always there in my head saying:

“What about this, Darius?”

“Oh! Don’t forget me in that scene! I would be fabulous!”

“Oh, and what would I do if you only placed me in that situation? Just imagine it!”


I also blame Russian writers for this. I do. In high school, I got hooked on Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky and the like (those wordy bastards!). And as you probably know, they write very long, dense books. Their influence on me was huge. These books (The Brothers Karamazov, Anna Karenina, etc.), in fact, are one of the reasons I became a writer. (But that’s a post for another time).

So, I blame them collectively: my characters and the Russians. I can’t say I’ve decided to act on this impulse to write long, but it’s there. Right now, I have a couple more short stories I want to get done, including “P.” But that doesn’t stop me from pre-writing or researching or thinking about how to plot out a novel…

Now does it?

See you next time,