Thursday, September 1, 2011

Critique and Revision Process

After I finish putting a story together, I am not sure that it all works. And there are probably plenty of typographical errors and maybe a grammar and/or punctuation mistake. Here is my method that has evolved over the years.

First, the story goes to my Gang of Three. I thanked my gangster friends, by name, in my acceptance speech at Writers of the Future in 2011. We are writers. We trust each others. We understand the genres we write in. We love history. We have an acquaintance with literature.

Our Gang of Three critiques are "soup to nuts." Does the plot work? Is it boring? Are there unnecessary scenes? Does the plot work? Were you ever confused about the action? Did any words sound wrong? All of it.

Then I revise. My gangster friends are generally convincing, so I take about 80% of their suggestions.

Next I send to a few writer friends who do not necessarily "get" the genre I'm working in--historical speculative fiction, mostly. Since the gangsters understand me, it's great to hear from people who are a little less on my wavelength. Once a friend pointed out how confused he was through two pages. He was not exactly sure what was going on. The problem was remedied by changing "man" in the first sentence of the story to "rider." I thought the horse in sentence two was obviously underneath the dude.

Next I throw it open to Codex, a forum for new writers, though some of the "new" writers joined a few years ago and are now highly successful. They take things apart well. By this time I have many of what I recognized as "kinks" worked out. So I usually have to consider advice seriously before I change things. However, sometimes I get a review from a friend on the forum that I immediately agree with and make lots of small revisions. The big revisions are probably done by now, though.

Finally my wife reads the story. She's a fabulous reader. She can spot all the errors that crept in from the revisions. And she reads for story and flow. Now and then she'll give me a suggestion that leads me to undo revisions that writers suggested. I trust her.

Sometimes I send to friends, but usually I never hear from them. Most are not that interested. Heck, if the world's greatest romance writer was a friend, I doubt I'd be that interested in reading her latest take on girl hates boy, girl is put in position that she can't get away from boy, girl gets interested in boy, boy gets interested in girl, then a big misunderstanding . . . See, I don't get it.

Somewhere in there I may send the story through my larger group--Stonepile Writers. But we only do six pages at a time (1500 words), so the only complete stories I would see critiqued are flash fiction. I don't do much flash. I crawl 40 page stories through, six pages at a time, though. It's good to participate. And I sometimes get a few good suggestions that I would possibly agree with. But by now the work is polished.

This seems way too complicated. But it gives me confidence that I have honed the story into the best form possible before submitting it to a seriously critical reader--a slush reader or an editor.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Idea Stories

A long time ago I talked about how I built an idea story. The idea came from saying, "We know that people vote in elections using names of dead people. But what if the living voted in an election for the dead." I was satisfied with the story. But it never sold to a speculative fiction magazine or anthology. I think the biggest problem was that the editors wants to see on the first page that this is really a speculative fiction story--wants to have someone casting a spell or projecting their consciousness onto the internet.

Suffrage has a vicious military incursion, matched by decisive explosive violence, followed by brief, intense sorrow, and then the zombies arise in the aftermath and the real crazy stuff starts. I never found a reader who said, "I stopped reading after the second page because I didn't see zombies." Readers glowed about the story. But writers have to take the business as it exists and under those conditions, Suffrage was not marketable without a big named author on the masthead that said, "Oh, yeah, you'll get zombies, baybee." I gave the story to my local university press. I'm glad people got to read it.

Then I formulated another idea story, set on an outlying planet in the reemerging galactic empire. I wrote almost the whole thing, worrying that it might become boring, then watching it become boring. The problem was that, unlike Suffrage, I only took a cursory amount of time to create characters, and the characters were mostly described by their professions. It was like science fiction from the 1950s.

Now I think I figured it out. The two characters from the empire were not just professions. They were student and teacher. Teacher is taking advantage of gaps in knowledge of the reemerging empire, to travel around and do good on a planetary scale. He has had five successes. But the empire is horrified that this loose cannon is interfering on a massive scale with social development--those interventions could have been horrible disasters. So the teacher is an outlaw.

He contacts his student so that he can do another intervention. She has the ability to work inside the empire and get resources to help him. That's the first page or so. She gets to the planet and he points her toward personally discovering the problem that he wants to solve. She agrees. She investigates--where the most ink is spilled.

Then she decides. Then comes the ending.

This story does not have the Suffrage problem. However, when the story was "all idea" it was dead. Adding the drama was the hard part.

Friday, August 12, 2011

The Odds

I have written before about the long odds of writing and publishing. I am now convinced if you write well, which entails a lot, then you just have to find the right reader for the stuff you write. And this may be a huge struggle.

It is frustrating to see stuff published that you write circles around. Does that really happen? Does the industry really care who writes something as long as it is well written? One author rigorously tested that theory.

You can find this story in other places, but this blogger reports it well.

Friday, July 22, 2011

The Crushing Irony of Keynesian Economics

During the Great Depression John Maynard Keynes reprised a discredited theory that government spending stimulates the economy. Frederic Bastiat, in 1850, had provided the jiu jitsu response to this old theory by asking, "When you spend, where does the money come from?" That is, if the government is giving away food, shelter, and clothing, from whence do they get the resources? The answer is often, "From taking the food, clothing, and shelter of others."

Bastiat's idea that Napoleon could not make France more wealthy by burning Paris or by breaking all the windows in France or by paying workers to dig holes and cover them up without withdrawing resources from the economy is known as "crowding out." Government activity crowds out private activity. There is an irony to crowding out that exposes just how foolish Keynes' recycling of Napoleon's idea is.

If the government decides to boost the economy by paying workers to grow potatoes and make potato chips, then private potato chip makers are crowded out. However, if the government decides to dig holes and fill them in, no private "hole-digger-filler-iners" are crowded out, because the market does not perform useless tasks.

So the more useless the government's spending is, the less it crowds out private spending. Hence, Keynes is wrong in any case. But Keynes' government spending would do the most damage to the private economy if the government did something useful.

Fortunately, government mostly concentrates on useless production, such as giving cocaine to monkeys, constructing bridges to nowhere, and building tunnels for turtles to walk under the highway.

Thursday, July 21, 2011


In my acceptance speech at Writers of the Future, I said "Thank you," a lot of times. And just now I got another rush of "thank you."

Due to Writers of the Future, excellent professional writers will give me the time of day. They know who I am. Many have offered to help and some have already helped. I am a member of an online group of newly minted professional writers and some young giants in the field.

All of my "Thank yous" from my acceptance speech are still the core of what took me to where I am. But it just occurred to me that I owe even more thanks than before.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Hewlett Packard dv8 FAIL

I have written about my Pavillion dv8's problems before. It starts flipping the wireless on and off, along with the treble and bass controls as if it were haunted. I find lots of people with this same crazy problem on the internet. You can even see videos of the problem on YouTube.

An engineer solved the problem last February. But he is not an HP employee and HP techs still have no clue that there is a solution, even though it is on the HP support forums. So tomorrow I mail my computer to HP again and hope that they will follow the solution. The difficulty is that solving the problem is not exactly their job description. They are supposed to follow a preset algorithm, do various tests, and try stuff.

Last time I sent the computer to them it was over 20 days before I got it back. The problem did not recur until a month later, but it built over time and now it's paralyzing me for longer periods of time. I could just take the computer apart and fix it myself--it involves taping some stuff to shield from static. But that would void my warranty, so if my motherboard fries next week, I'll be out of luck.

I am not optimistic.

Thursday, June 16, 2011


When my kids first started karate, it was pretty expensive each month. But they would miss some weeks and we paid by the lesson, so that was not bad for us. But it was terrible for the school because of the irregular cash flows. The boys cooled down on karate after a year or so.

Then my oldest decided to go back after a few months. This time we had to sign a two year contract with the "association" that was located in another state. We could either pay a huge chunk up front or by the month--which was just a bit more than the old "by the week" payments. After two or three months the owner/main guy was a jerk to my oldest and my kid didn't want to go back anymore (he was in third or fourth grade). So I quit sending payments. When they dunned me, I explained. Then they explained--threatened to ruin my credit rating. So I grumbled and paid it off.

I guess they got what they were aiming for, so it was a success for them. But I bet that the institution of "lump-sum easy-payments" for lessons for the kid got a bad cumulative word of mouth. I know I griped at every opportunity--even now, 11 years later!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Sad Truth About Writing

When two economics professors meet, they talk about economics. When two writers meet, they do not talk about writing. That is part of my experience from meeting lots of professionals at Writers of the Future 27.

When I meet an economics professor, I want to know what area he/she does research in. I want to know what his/her approach to the area is. For instance, in this vein, I might tell another economist that I wrote my dissertation on terrorism. I looked at problems of terrorist bargaining and have published a lot about terrorism and the media. My favorite work I did on the subject showed that if terrorists vie for media attention, then there is an upper bound on the amount of terrorism as they shove each other off the front page and bore the public with more and more events. Then we would talk about what we're working on now.

Two writers talk about the kids and about the crazy thing that happened last week at Costco. They may talk about the business--how a publisher is trying a creative way of cheating them with a new contract offer. But they do not talk about what they just wrote or what they are writing. I have a theory as to why this is true.

Writing is like farming. When two corn farmers meet, they do not show each other pictures of their favorite ears of corn from the last harvest. "Oh, look at the silk on this one! It is enchanting."

There are thousands of farmers. There are thousands of writers. There are tons of corn. There are tons of manuscript pages. When a writer sends a manuscript to an editor it goes into a huge pile, called slush. There are thousands of other manuscripts there. Eventually someone--usually with a lowly station, "reads" them. Maybe they read a paragraph or two of them. When you have to pick one manuscript from a possible two thousand, you are not looking for small flaws that will exclude. You are looking for something that grabs you by the throat. And everyone's throat is different. Here is an article by Mike Resnick, who has published a few million words and has a stack of the top awards in his field.

Professional writers are accustomed to this view. Many writers produce lots of manuscripts and realize that they're going into a big pile--though well-known writers' manuscripts go into a smaller big pile than the slush. And well known writers will see plenty of rejection--which is not personal.

Writers do lots of writing. They see lots of writing. They do not want to talk about writing.

What about economics professors? I am in a class of professors that teaches and does research. And in my area of the profession, twenty-five publications in twenty-two years is considered great. I read about economics--for fun! I love to listen to economics podcasts.

Maybe when two of a different class of economists meet, they are more like farmers and writers. Some economists sit in front of a computer screen all day and churn out spreadsheets showing that this part of an company is efficient or that part is not. When two of these meet, I doubt they say, "My new spreadsheet technique works so well! Look how I pivot those tables. It makes everything so easy."

If writing is so boring, why am I now talking about writing? I'm new to writing--look at the luster of the kernels of this ear! It brings tears to my eyes.

Sunday, May 22, 2011


So strange that my knuckleheaded son now has a son. I highly recommend being a grandpa. My son may even be maturing, growing into the role that he has accepted.

Johnathan is such a small thing--a miracle. He is now one month old.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Ramona's Pizza

Ramona said, "You two have griped long enough about not having enough help here, so I hired some. I expect lots more pizzas to be cooked."

Pete looked up from the pan he was spreading dough in. "Thank you! Will they be working tonight? After the ball game, we'll be swamped."

"Yeah, they'll be here. All twelve of them."

Sophie said, "Twelve more? We're going to have fourteen people working in this place tonight?"

Ramona put her hands on the sales counter and leaned toward them. "Yup. So I expect that since you'll have seven times as many workers, you'll make seven times as much pizza."

"You're kidding." Pete said.

Sophie threw her hands up. "Where will we put them all? There's not room for that many workers in this place. We'll be lucky if we make twice as many pizzas as usual."

Ramona said, "You're very creative. You'll figure something out." She pulled her inventory clipboard out from under the sales counter and went into the back.

Sophie put her face in her hands, smelling bell pepper on them and wondering if her eyes were going to start stinging. "Those are going to be the most expensive pizzas we ever made. I should just quit now."

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Volume 27

Writers of the Future, Volume 27 is here. The trailer is here.

The week in Hollywood was fantastic. Authors' Services and Galaxy Press staffs were excellent.

The week long workshop, taught by K. D. Wentworth and Tim Powers, was phenomenal. We got advice from the old pros and the young stars--both were spectacular.

The writers were all great folks with substantial talents. I enjoyed talking and laughing with them tremendously. I hope that we can form a lasting cohort.

The illustrators were nice folks, too, but we did not spend as much time with them. The illustration that Irvin Rodriguez did for The Sundial was wonderful.

The awards show was polished and professional. The trophy is a beautiful Lucite pyramid with a silver quill inside. They're mailing it to me.

The experience was highly rewarding and exhausting fun.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Burning Money

It was hot, the night we burned chrome. -- William Gibson

I like the way that Gibson turned the phrase. "Burning" can be a present progressive tense verb or a modifying gerund. In a two word title "burning" sounds like a gerund, that is, I first assumed that "burning chrome" was a noun phrase--"chrome," the noun, and "burning," telling me what kind of chrome. But Gibson immediately turned my expectation inside out. He used "burning" as a verb and "chrome" as a direct object, as in, "We are getting out the blowtorch and burning chrome."

"Killing Words," one of my short stories, uses Gibson's ambiguity.

But I want to talk about burning money.

The Writers of the Future staff suggested a dress code for the workshop and events during the week. One staff member's clarification made it clear that I was well set, with clothes that fit the code. Later, another staff member interpreted the code differently--I was a bit below the bar.

For me, spending money on clothing is akin to burning it. I have enough clothes to rotate through most of a week, then wash them, then rinse, and repeat. So I do not have the amount of clothes that normal people have. This is one facet of my nerdhood.

My view of buying clothing has led me to make friends with my decades-old shirts. When they're finally too worn to wear, it is like saying "goodbye" to an old friend. I identify with Brian Eno, who once sung, "The passage of my life is measured out in shirts." I think Eno's line is a reference to J. Alfred Prufrock's life, which he has "measured out in coffee spoons."

So today I went to Walmart and bought $150 worth of clothes. Man, that hurt. Yes, I know it will make me a bit more normal to have an office casual wardrobe that can span 10 days or more before a wash. And I know that even though I spend, perhaps, $50/year on clothing, that normal people spend much more than that. And normal professionals do not buy $150 wardrobes at freakin' Walmart. But I am not normal.

However, it just may be the case that people who buy books would rather think of the author as being like them--as being normal. My bet is that WOTF's suggestion is like a flu shot. I did not want it. But it will be good for me.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Of The Future

In a week I leave for the Writers of the Future workshop, book signings and awards ceremony. The idea is too big for my head.

Sundial will be published in the best selling science fiction and fantasy anthology in the world.

WOTF will pay for me to fly to and stay in Hollywood for a weeklong workshop conducted by two excellent, successful authors--K. D. Wentworth and Tim Powers.

I will be able to meet authors who are new forces in the genre and authors who are venerable powerhouses.

"Calm, calm," I keep telling myself. But I don't listen.

Friday, April 8, 2011


I went home over spring break to stay with dad while he was in the hospital for surgery. But he was in the Veterans Administration hospital system, so the diagnosing hospital forgot to send the orders to the surgical hospital, so I was there a week early. Since I already bought the ticket I spent a week with dad outside of hospitals.

We had lots of great time to talk. We went to the Vicksburg Battlefield National Park with by brother. I saw the restored ironclad warship, Cairo (pronounce KAY Ro). It looks like a neat little model in the picture. It was wonderful to walk around inside, getting a feel for how it would have been to work on one.

We also went to Colfax, Louisiana, sight of the Colfax Massacre, the most violent episode during Reconstruction. 150 to 250 blacks were killed, along with three whites, during a contested election in 1873. The citizens of Colfax erected a marker dedicated to the three whites "who fell in the Colfax Riot fighting for white supremacy." Stupidity and hate is great fodder for stories.

The week after I left, dad had his operation. Where his : was, now he has a ;

At this date, he is home, eating solid food, after spending around two weeks recovering. He is my hero. I feel blessed that he is doing well.

Friday, April 1, 2011

A Fable

Biff said, "Diamond Point will never be as rich as Arrowwood unless we stop paying poor people to do our landscaping!" Ted agreed. They convinced the homeowner's association, overriding Chuck's objection that hiring landscapers was charitable to the poor. So Diamond Point would only hire residents. Here's what happened.

Ted said, "Biff, I gave up $40K in legal work this year because I was landscaping. Would you do my landscaping for $10K?"

Biff shook his head. "No way. I think I'm down $30K from last year. I would hire you, but your lawn sucks. Man, take some time off to figure out how to balance your ph."

"Time off? Can't I just hire somebody to do that? I can't afford more time off."

Biff rolled his eyes. "Read last year's agreement, man. We agreed not to hire out for ANY landscaping services. I hired a Diamond Point accountant to spread lime for $2K. He said that getting a landscaping education cost him $60K's worth of business so he had to charge."

Ted said, "Maybe Chuck was right. Maybe we should be charitable to the poor folks in Jones Ford and hire them."

"Get real, dude. That subdivision is so poor that they're full of free trade economists."

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Victorian Era

"On Dec. 8, 1881, a fire consumed Vienna's elegant Ringtheater during an opera performance. Hours later, when nearly 400 bodies had been removed from the smoldering ruin, the policeman heading the recovery operation reported to the emperor's famously tender-hearted cousin, Archduke Albrecht, 'All saved, Your Imperial Highness.' In old Vienna, one maintained a good facade no matter how awful the truth."
-- Barrymore Laurence Scherer, Wall Street Journal, March 30, 2011


Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Mark Twain and Unions

The riverboat pilot's union that Mark Twain describes in "Life on the Mississippi" added value to society. For a long time the union tried to push on a rope--they just demanded higher wages and bargained themselves out of jobs.

Eventually the union pilots began to record their observations on the latest developments with the ever-changing rivers--where a sandbar had formed, where a new wreck lay, where a new channel was cut. They dropped these written observations in locked boxes where the steamboats moored. Union pilots, therefore, were the best informed on the river.

When an insurance company was contracted to underwrite a steamboat cargo, it insisted on a well informed union pilot. That's when the pilot's union found success by providing valuable information in the market.

People are free under the Constitution to assemble and form whatever associations they want. People are free to resist forming associations, as well. Unions should be free to organize. Business should be free to just say no, if they want. Unions will be successful if they can add value.

Monday, March 7, 2011


HP tech support is chock full of lying fiends who can't do math.

2 days to get a Fed Ex box, 2 days to send the comp back to them, 2 days repair, 2 days back to me = 2+2+2+2 = 23 days estimated turnaround.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011


Writers of the Future sent their edits on my bio and on my story, The Sundial.

The edits on The Sundial were excellent. They kept all of Bess' bad English, while getting rid of all of my bad English. I was mortified to see that some of my errors remained after so many reads and readers.

I had worried that since my bio was different than the other authors' bios I had seen, that the editors would "sameify" it. But they left everything in it. I was pleased. The bio I submitted is similar to the bio that accompanies this blog.

I cannot talk about me unless I talk about the web of folks who have been part of my life.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Future

The Sundial, my story about an immortal Egyptian witch's difficulties in the American Civil War, will be published in Writers of the Future's volume 27. Mosby's Raiders, the confederate partisan cavalry unit, is prominently featured in the story.

Writers of the Future is the best selling science fiction and fantasy anthology series of all time, according to Locus Magazine. I feel as if I have been struck by lightning.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

New Wave

Fell into the new wave tonight.

The Call: Walls Came Down
Squeeze: Black Coffee in Bed
Bram Tchaikovsky: Girl of My Dreams
Thomas Dolby: One of Our Submarines is Missing
Madness: One Step Beyond
Wall of Voodoo: Mexican Radio
The Tubes: Talk to Ya Later
Moon Martin: Bad Case of Lovin' You