Iron Sharpening Iron

I have found another group for writers who are interested in stretching themselves.  It’s called Write Club Fight Club, and the basic idea is to pair up writers and have them “fight”–give them a concept or a story seed and have them both work it into a story, then post both stories and see how different authors develop the same concept differently.

I like that sort of thing.  Left to my own devices I will keep rehashing the same concepts, and it’s both refreshing and good practice to try something outside of my wonted haunts. So I joined up, and you can see my profile on the site here. (In keeping with the spirit of the site I did not just repost the same old bio I use everywhere.)

Interested in checking it out for yourself?  You can use this contact page to get more information.

I am also currently working on a story for a “Romantic Horror” anthology that keeps changing as I write it–Romance and Horror, for me, have always been diametrically opposed concepts and combining them has been interesting, to say the least.

Taking a break from both Eisenstrasse and Worms Of Heaven for a bit.  I expect to get back to them soon.

Posted in On Writing, Who I am, Worms Of Heaven | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Chekhov’s Gun, Identity & The Other

“Remove everything that has no relevance to the story. If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there.”

—Anton Chekhov

While there are a number of reasons why I think that this is terrible advice to give a writer of fiction, the most egregious of them is that it fosters a perceived need for what might be termed “identity justification.”

When a storyteller is guided by the Chekhov’s Gun principle the audience knows that everything is there for a reason.  Not simply physical items like the gun in the example, but also items relating to character development.  In an action movie, for example, if a character talks about his background as a heavy equipment operator you can bet that before the closing credits roll that character is going to jump into a bulldozer and use it to drive through the wall of the villain’s secret lair.

Otherwise, that line of dialogue wouldn’t be there.  The writer has hung a metaphorical bulldozer on the wall, and it’s going to have to go off, at least according to conventional wisdom. If you see kids playing a video game and shooting aliens in the first scene, they are going to end up capturing ray guns and shooting real aliens later on. (cf. Mars Attacks.)

If a character is shown to be a cowboy, he’s got to end up doing some kind of “cowboy thing”–using a lariat, riding a bull, even just having a bullet stopped by his ridiculously large silver belt buckle.  Chekhov’s Gun implies that a cowboy has to have some reason that is important to the plot in order to be a cowboy.

Now.  Why is a character a woman?

Think about it.

Obviously, if a character is a woman, she has to do “woman things”, right?  Not that I expect that writers think of it quite like that, but there is that mindset.  Woman characters are there to do woman things, gay characters are there to do gay things, Black characters are there to do Black things.

This attitude is summed up by a comment I read regarding homosexual characters in fiction, someone remarked that if a gay character’s relationship was not a part of the plotline, then why make the character gay?  Other posters quickly condemned that comment as homophobic, but I think that is missing the point.

The point, to my mind, is that the principle of Chekhov’s Gun leads writers to believe that what is significant about a character–or a setting, or a prop–has to be significant in terms of the plot.

Combine that with the push for diversity for its own sake, and you end up with every police drama on television having a tough, no nonsense single mother on staff whose daughter (you notice that the kids are almost never sons) is threatened once a season.

Then you have the clever, inventive Black detective from the ghetto who has to confront a high school pal who is now a big time drug dealer once a season.

And you have the Asian detective (who can be either a man or a woman, for some reason female Asians don’t count as the token woman, only as the token Asian) who must instruct everyone else in the intricacies of the Yakuza or the Tongs once a season.

Now, of course, we get to have the gay character (not a detective, that’s too macho–the gay character must be a fragile fainting flower like a Victorian lady) who has to be rescued from nasty homophobes once a season.

On the plus side, that’s a quarter of the shows that the writers don’t have to come up with an idea for, I suppose.

But this is what I mean by identity justification. It’s subtle and it’s pernicious and it leads not to diversity in any meaningful sense, but tokenism.

Because those characters that the writer sees as “mainstream” don’t need justification. It’s Chekhov’s Gun, not Chekhov’s Calender.   Nobody says that if a character has a picture of his mother on the wall in chapter one that he has to dress up like Norman Bates by chapter three.  It is only the atypical that has to have some direct impact on the story.

Someone who looks and thinks like the author can just be. If a character is different from the author, that character has to be different for a reason.  And that means that including  characters who are different from the author involves twisting the plot in order to give them identity specific functions in the story.

The alternative, of course, is to jettison the entire concept of removing everything that has no relevance to the story.  Because people aren’t who they are for a reason, they just are who they are. Characters should be more than just plot devices, and that means that they have a lot of parts that have no relevance to the story, but those parts make our readers care what happens in the story.

Posted in On Promotion, On Publishing, On Writing, Poetry, Who I am | Tagged , , , , , , , | 21 Comments

Copyright Infringement: A Warning to all Authors


Check for your books on this site and tell them to take them down.

Originally posted on blindoggbooks:

I would like to share a letter sent to me by a fellow independent author, who wishes to remain anonymous, about a website claiming to be promoting independent authors, when in reality it appears that they are offering free downloads of the work of dozens of us.

If you are an author, independent or otherwise, I urge you to read this letter and investigate the site yourself. Find out if your work is posted there and take appropriate action to have it removed, or, at the very least, make sure you are willing to grant permission to the site owners to list your work.

Making money as an independent author is difficult enough without pirating sites giving our work away under false pretenses AND without our permission.

Please share, tweet or reblog this post in order to spread the word through the independent author community and, hopefully, put some pressure…

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The Official Alphabetical List of Author Success


I’m an O gunning for N–except I never check my Amazon stats.

Originally posted on Monster Hunter Nation:

I’ve often been derisively referred to as a “D List Author” by my critics.  Curious, I had to look up where that list came from:

Sadly, as usual my critics suck at everything. This scale is based on how recognizable movie stars are, and since most regular people wouldn’t recognize any but the most famous (or funny looking) authors, it doesn’t really work for us at all. So I have created this super helpful guide so critics know what bucket to arbitrarily stick writers in.

What’s way better than fame? All fame is good for in Hollywood is determining how much they have to pay actors. So screw recognition. Show me the MONEY!

Since the super reliable Guardian newspaper reported that only the top 1% of all authors make more than $100,000 a year from writing and the average mid list author makes around $30,000 a year we’ll just…

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Yes, I am on Kindle Unlimited. Yes, I think it’s a good deal for authors.

Amazon has just launched a new program that they call Kindle Unlimited.

The short form is that subscribers pay $9.99 a month and are able to borrow any of the books (e-book and audiobook) that are in the Kindle Unlimited library.

Because the program involves readers getting books for a subscription price rather than full price, and because it is a program from Amazon, there is the predictable outcry from indie authors that this is it, Amazon is going to eat us all and spit out our bones.  People out there will be reading our books for free!  The sky is falling!

I disagree.

Now, as it happens, my books are on KDP, which means that they are automatically included in the Kindle Unlimited library.  (I just checked, and yes, the little KU icon is next to the book description on both Catskinner’s Book and Cannibal Hearts.)

If they weren’t automatically included, I would opt into the program.  Heck, I would pay them to be included.

Why?  Because people who will pay $9.99 a month for a book subscription service are people who read a lot.  People who read a lot tend to be people who talk about books a lot–in person and on-line.

Word of mouth advertising is what sells indie books.  Amazon has just launched a program designed specifically to make checking out unknown authors less risky for the kind of people most likely to spread the word about a new writer.

Will big name authors also be included in the program?  Sure, they have to have some guaranteed draws to make the program work.  But those guys don’t need the readers.  I do.

Will I make money when my books get borrowed through the KU program?  Some, I’m not sure of the details.  It won’t be as much as a full sale, I’m sure.

That’s okay.  Because it’s like getting a free pass to send a copy of my book to a million book bloggers and reviewers, and Amazon is doing the legwork for me.

Posted in On Promotion, On Publishing, On Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , | 17 Comments

Flash Fiction

I wrote a story yesterday.

I have been seeking out invitations to submit short fiction for a number of reasons and this one intrigued me because of limitations of subject matter and word count.

Flash Fiction is a relatively new name, I think, but I like it.  It’s certainly better than “Short Short Stories”.  While the person who is accepting submissions has the final say, most Flash Fiction anthologies I have seen place the word count at between 100 and 1000 words.

That is tough for me.  I tend towards verbosity and a certain wealth of description.  In Worms Of Heaven the first ten chapters cover about twelve hours in my narrator’s life. (Granted, it is a very busy day.)

Yesterday I sat down and wrote out a story which ended up being about 1500 words.  Then I went back and cut it down to under 1000.  The first two hundred or so were easy, I was able to find sentences to snip out entirely.

Then I started working on my syntax, finding more succinct ways to frame sentences and omitting needless words.  That was harder.  I like needless words.

Finally I had to reread the whole story, start to finish, and decide what was really important.  There was some of the setup that I was able to cut, trusting my readers to figure out what was going on from context.

I got it down to 999 words and did a final read-through, found two different places where I had left a word out of a sentence, put the missing word into one of them and cut the other entirely.

I’m happy with the finished product.  I think that it retains the impact of the original story. I deliberately went against the grain with it and took it in a direction that I hope none of the other contributors will consider.

We’ll see.  I have another story I want to get to work on, this one with a more liberal word count window.  I’ll be looking for more Flash Fiction anthologies in the future, I think.  It’s good practice for me.

Posted in Artists That I Admire, On Publishing, On Writing, Poetry | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments

Saint Louis Authors Showcase

“Books Are For People Who Wish They Were Somewhere Else” – Mark Twain

I love my town.  St. Louis is an odd place.  It’s not really a city, not in the way that say, Chicago or Los Angeles is a city. Historically, what happened is that a whole bunch of different people all decided that just west of the Mississippi river was a good place to settle down and start a town, and so a whole bunch of small towns got started in the same general area, and as they grew they kind of grew together, but they never really merged to make a city, they stayed a bunch of small towns.

Part of it is that when Saint Louis County was formed, Saint Louis City elected not to be part of the county.  This put a limit on the growth of the city proper and the little municipalities that make up the county have been loathe to give up their autonomy.  Some years ago when I was getting a county security officer license the teacher of the class mentioned that there were (at the time) eighty-eight separate police departments in Saint Louis County.

For me, it’s the perfect place to live.  It has the feel and the pace of a small town with the access to services of a major metropolitan area.  Plus it’s the home of The Blues (GO BLUES!) a hockey team that is so awesome that we have no need to prove our superiority with the temporary possession of some gaudy piece of tableware.

It’s a great place to be a writer.  We have small town cost of living with access to an outstanding public library system, a world class zoo, theater, opera, some wonderful museums, our own freakin’ circus, pretty much all the culture you could ask for.

I am not the only writer who feels this way, either.  Elle Marie is a local author whom I met at a book fair some time ago.  She put together a contact list of St. Louis authors and invited us all to a do cross promotion that I think is pretty clever.

Each author picked two of the following questions to answer:

1. What is your book’s or your personal connection to St. Louis?
2. Which scene in your book might a fellow St. Louisan recognize?
3. If your book was made into a movie, who would play the part of your hero/heroine?
4. What Missouri activity would your main character enjoy most: a float trip, a Cardinals game, or a winery visit?
5. What’s Missouri’s best season?
6. If your book was on death row, what would it choose for its last meal?

Read the authors’ responses and check out their books!



The Waiting Room
by Piper Punches

What is your book’s or your personal connection to St. Louis?
Although The Waiting Room takes place in the fictional farming community of Marion, Missouri, I wrote my debut novel with the intention of highlighting the various flavors of people that make up the rural communities that surround the St. Louis Metro area, which give it its one-of-a-kind hometown atmosphere. Readers that grew up outside of the city limits, even outside of the major suburbs of St. Louis County, will find that they can relate to the pull of the big city, while still finding equal amounts of comfort and aggravation living in a small town that refuses to accept anonymity.

If your book was on death row, what would it choose for its last meal?
Oh, that’s easy! My book would choose a home-cooked meal of mashed potatoes, smothered steak, and green beans drenched in bacon fat and butter. For dessert? Oh, yes! There would be dessert. My book is not a diet book. It would enjoy every last morsel of a cherry pie topped with whipped cream and a heaping side of vanilla ice cream.

Genre: Women’s Fiction

Buy now or read the book’s description:
Paperback: $11.95 | Kindle: $0.99

Connect with Piper:
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads | Google+



On The Buckle
by Candace Carrabus

What is your book’s or your personal connection to St. Louis?
On the Buckle, Dreamhorse Mystery #1 is set on a horse farm in Missouri about an hour and half from St. Louis. The main character, Vi, and the hero, Malcolm, go the art museum in an early scene, and later, Vi meets a friend at the symphony. Guess what? We live on a farm outside St. Louis, and we enjoy our beautiful art museum and our fantastic symphony, too!

If your book was made into a movie, who would play the part of your hero/heroine?
Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting, who plays Penny on The Big Bang Theory, would be perfect as Vi Parker. She’s the right age, smart as a whip, funny as heck, and–the icing on the cake–she’s an accomplished equestrienne.

Genre: Humorous romantic mystery

Buy now or read the book’s description:
Paperback: $12.99 | Kindle: $3.99 | B&N $12.99/$3.99Kobo: $3.99 | Smashwords: $3.99

Connect with Candace:
Website | FacebookTwitter | Goodreads



Looks That Deceive
by Braxton DeGarmo

What Missouri activity would your main character enjoy most: a float trip, a Cardinals game, or a winery visit?
Lynch Cully would certainly be the typical St. Louis sports fanatic, supporting the Cardinals, Rams, and Blues. He’s likely to go to as many games as he could fit into the consuming, unbalanced schedule of a police detective working with the Major Case Squad. Amy Gibbs, on the other hand, is definitely the winery aficionado. With a variety of friends, she’s managed to visit every winery in Missouri — no small feat — and she has her favorites. Yet, like Lynch, her schedule as a flight nurse doesn’t allow much time for this pleasure anymore.

What is your book’s or your personal connection to St. Louis?
Looks that Deceive is a thriller based in the St. Louis area. From scenes in Ladue, at Mercy Hospital, in Creve Coeur Park, and involving the region from Troy, MO, in the north, to the Big River, west of Hillsboro, MO, in the south, how much more connected could it get? I frequently get comments from St. Louis area readers about how much they enjoy the local flavor. Yet, readers outside of St. Louis won’t find that flavor off-putting, as the pace keeps them moving and the characters pull them into the story.

Genre: Mystery/Thriller

Buy now or read the book’s description:
Paperback: $16.95 | Kindle: $4.99 | Nook: $4.99

Connect with Braxton:
Website | FacebookTwitter | Goodreads


catskinners-book-misha-burnettCatskinner’s Book
by Misha Burnett

What’s Missouri’s best season?
October. The continental United States has five distinct weather patterns, and four of them collide in the air above the central Mississippi flood plain. In practical terms, this means that we usually get the worst weather that this country has to offer. We get Gulf Coast summers and Great Plains winters and springs that are downright schizophrenic – rain and scorching heat and snow, sometimes all in the same week.
However, for one brief shining moment, usually from about the middle of October to Halloween, St. Louis – like Mars – is Heaven. Clear, dry days, nights just cool enough that you can sleep with the windows open if you have a comforter or a lover of a dog to keep you warm. Don’t blink – you’ll miss it.

What is your book’s or your personal connection to St. Louis?
I am from a lot of different places, but I call St. Louis home. It’s where I decided to settle down and raise a family. My books are almost set here. I say “almost” because I never come out and say that St. Louis is where James & Catskinner and all the other characters live. If you know the town, though, you’ll recognize the neighborhoods, South City and West County and the Riverfront.

Genre: New Wave Science Fiction

Buy now or read the book’s description:
Paperback: $8.99 | Kindle: $2.99

Connect with Misha:
Blog | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads



Chronicle of the Mound Builders
by Elle Marie

Which scene in your book might a fellow Missourian recognize?
Most people from Missouri or eastern Illinois will recognize the mysterious Cahokia Mounds. A lot of action and excitement in Chronicle of the Mound Builders takes place there, in both the ancient and the modern timelines.

What Missouri activity would your main character enjoy most: a float trip, a Cardinals game, or a winery visit?
Definitely a float trip! Angela Hunter is a very outdoorsy girl, which is one reason she chose a career in archaeology. She loves hiking and exploring when she’s not solving mysteries.

Genre: Mystery/Action-Adventure

Buy now or read the book’s description:
Paperback: $14.99 | Kindle: $4.99

Connect with Elle:
Blog | Twitter | Goodreads



Confessions of a Paris Party Girl
by Vicki Lesage

What Missouri activity would your main character enjoy most: a float trip, a Cardinals game, or a winery visit?
Well, I’m Confessions of a Paris Party Girl’s main character, so on a trip back to St. Louis from Paris, I would most enjoy an afternoon at a winery. Not just because of the wine (but that’s a definite plus for this party girl!) but because of the beautiful Missouri scenery. A Cardinals game is a close second, though!

If your book was on death row, what would it choose for its last meal?
A huge pot of fondue. The melted cheese deliciousness is a running theme in my book and several scenes take place in my favorite fondue restaurant in Paris. And of course a glass of red wine!

Genre: Memoir

Buy now or read the book’s description:
Paperback: $14.99 | Kindle: $4.99

Connect with Vicki:
Blog | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads



by George Sirois

If your book was made into a movie, who would play the part of your hero/heroine?
Matthew Peters is an ideal spot for either a young television star making the transition to the big screen or someone brand new to the industry. The characters around Matthew, however, are perfect for bigger stars. My editor and I have ideas for his mentor, Katherine Sierra. I think Mariska Hargitay would be a great fit, and my editor wants Marg Helgenberger. (Either one would be terrific if they ever want to do it, of course.) My wife’s “second husband,” Jeffrey Dean Morgan, would be the older Denarian known as Radifen. And I’d love to see Adam “Edge” Copeland play the ambitious Danaak.

What is your book’s or your personal connection to St. Louis?
I always envisioned Excelsior as a coming-of-age story, but it never really kicked into gear until my wife and I made the decision to leave New York City (where I was born, and where I went to college and spent more than 15 years) to move to St. Louis (where my wife was born and raised). Matthew is the next in line to become a god on another planet, but that means he has to leave everything he has ever known, and leave his dreams to become a famous writer & artist behind. And even though I didn’t reach the heights that Matthew does, the move to St. Louis – away from my friends and family – got me a great job, a great house, and opportunities I could never get in New York City.

Genre: YA, Sci-Fi

Buy now or read the book’s description:
Paperback: $12.95 | Kindle: $2.99

Connect with George:
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads



by Robin Tidwell

Which scene in your book might a fellow Missourian recognize?
Reduced takes place mainly in Jefferson County, but also in St. Louis County and the city of St. Louis. The Arch, of course, makes an appearance, as do Grant’s Farm and St. Mary’s Hospital. Several roads and highways are mentioned, and the characters are surviving at “an old, abandoned” Girl Scout camp – which is, at present, still in use.

What is your book’s or your personal connection to St. Louis?
My family has been in the St. Louis area since 1847, when Friederich Kuhlmann arrived from Germany and bought a lot in what would become the city of Clayton – the Sevens Building is there now. A few years later, he purchased farm land in St. Louis County – several scenes take place there. I was born and raised here (Parkway Central), moved away for a while after college (the first attempt), and returned seven years ago. St. Louisans almost always come home…

Abby did the same – moved out West for a few years, then returned; she and her group go way back, decades even, and stick together through the collapse of their civilization. So many dystopian stories are set in LA or NYC, but STL is right in the heart of the country, and that makes all the difference.

Genre: Dystopic

Buy now or read the book’s description:
Paperback: $13.95 | Kindle: $3.99

Connect with Robin:
Website | Blog | Facebook | Twitter


Posted in Artists That I Admire, On Promotion, On Publishing, On Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments