Category Archives: On Writing

Novel Sent Out

Yesterday was a long day. I spent the entire day putting together a submission package for one of the big publishers. I didn’t think it’d take me till one in the morning to finally submit the thing.

Writing a cover letter and synopsis, and all that stuff, is like pulling teeth. It’s not fun at all. The fun part is writing actual fiction. The rest is just agony.

I got up from my desk only a few times yesterday.

Think I’m going to start Book Two today.

I guess my motto is “Let’s see what happens”. I’ll do the best I can with each project, send it out and see what happens.

Novel Wrapped Up

Yesterday I finished going over that one novel again. I finished writing the thing a couple years ago. Some months back, I started reading it, because I needed to make notes for the second book of the series.

While reading it, I ended up making changes and corrections. So, it became a long process. I had already gone over this novel several times before, but there were still some mistakes that I missed the last time I went over it. Also, there were scenes that I decided to change to make them fit better. I think the story has a better ring to it now.

The whole thing is 91,278 words and 431 pages.

Today I’m stressing over which publishing company to send it to first. Most of the big publishers will only accept agented submissions, but I can think of couple that are open to unagented submissions and I’m leaning toward one of them. I’m also considering some small press publishers.

I’ve shopped this novel around to agents, but haven’t landed one yet. So, I decided to change my game plan a little and see if I can land a publisher, and then maybe I’ll be able to win over an agent.

We’ll see what happens.

Conflicting Writer Advice

I’m curious about why successful writers sometimes condemn the practices of other equally successful writers when giving advice to starving writers. It’s not like they’re saying, “This is what worked for me….” Often a successful writer will say something along the lines of “Do A, but don’t do B.” Meanwhile, another writer, who is every bit as successful as the first writer, will say “Do B, but don’t do A.”

What I wonder is, are these writers aware that they are giving conflicting advice? Are they aware that other writers have reached success by doing the exact opposite? I don’t think these writers are in some kind of argument with each other, I think they just don’t know what they’re saying. It would make more sense if they gave their advice in a “this is how I did it” manner, instead of “You must do this and you must not do that.”

An Interview with W.P. Kinsella

W.P. Kinsella is the author of Shoeless Joe, the novel that the 1989 movie Field of Dreams is based on. He has written several other novels and short stories, many of them having to do with baseball, First Nations people and magic. “The Essential W.P. Kinsella” was released from Tachyon Publications in March and contains some of Kinsella’s best stories, including the short story Shoeless Joe Jackson Comes to Iowa, which was the seed for the novel Shoeless Joe.

Kinsella celebrated his 80th birthday on the 25th of May.

 

Interview conducted February 22, 2015.

Rob Darnell: Much of your work has to do with baseball. Do you closely follow the sport? What teams do you root for?

W.P. Kinsella: Not anymore. Loosely follow the Blue Jays. After the strike, I lost interest. In reality, neither players nor owners care in the least about the fans. The greed of both factions has destroyed baseball’s credibility, at least for the present.

RD: Are there any MLB players at all that you feel are not caught up in the greed?

WPK: As long as they are forced to belong to the Players Union, no. My hero will be the guy who tells the Union to get lost.

RD: MLB politics aside, do you still agree that the game is beautiful?

WPK: Yes.

RD: Are there college, minor league or independent teams that you pay any attention to?

WPK: No. Have never been a minor league fan.

RD: Did you play baseball when you were a kid? If you did, what positions did you prefer to play? And how well did you hit?

WPK: No. Played a little softball, but there was nowhere on the field it was safe for me to be.

RD: When did your interest in baseball start and what sparked the interest? What inspired you to mix baseball and magic together?

WPK: My dad talked a good game. A child got only the World Series on the radio.

RD: What is the best World Series you can think of and what made it great?

WPK: 1946, if my memory is correct. Harry “The Cat” Brecheen went against the Red Sox in Game 7. I stayed home to listen, practically had my head inside the radio.

RD: What is your fondest baseball memory?

WPK: Seeing Bob Forsch pitch a no hitter against Montreal.

RD: Both, Harry Brecheen and Bob Forsch, played for the St. Louis Cardinals. You have fond memories of both of them. Does that mean you were once a Cardinal fan? If yes, why are the Cardinals not your team anymore and when did your love for them die?

WPK: I became exclusively an American League fan when they instituted the DH rule, and will remain so until the National League moves out of the dark ages.

RD: Over the years you’ve seen many players come and go. Who are the players that you admired the most? And what was it about them that made them admirable?

WPK: Yogi Berra, Bill Lee, they were irreverent, poked fun at the stodgy owners and managers. Curt Flood, of course, was in a class by himself, a true hero.

RD: In the early years, you had to listen to the games on the radio. Do you remember the first game you saw on TV? Was there any difficulty in making the transition from radio to TV? Was it more enjoyable to watch than listen to the games?

WPK: Guess about 1954. Until Color TV came along, BW TV was too muddy to be enjoyable.

RD: What was the first professional baseball game you had been to? And how old were you? Can you describe the experience?

WPK: Edmonton Vs Calgary, 1946, age 10. First Major League game was San Francisco Vs L.A. Don Drysdale Vs Juan Marichal. Drysdale won. Didn’t realize how lucky I was.

RD: Have you been to many MLB games? What professional baseball parks have you been to?

WPK: At one time I’d been to every park except Baltimore and Houston, but can’t even keep track of who plays where these days.

RD: In your opinion, who is the greatest baseball player of all time?

WPK: It is hard to compare the eras, but Joe Jackson and Ty Cobb from the past, Sandy Koufax and Roger Clements from the present.

RD: Do you like any other sports, such as football, basketball or hockey? If so, what are your teams?

WPK: I’m a big fan of curling, follow all the major world events. Watch all four Tennis majors. Basketball is the worst sport. They need to raise the basket at least two feet.

RD: You and Ray have the same last name. Is there more that the two of you have in common? Does Ray Kinsella mirror much of yourself?

WPK: Ray is named for a Salinger short story character, but he mirrors some of my thoughts and experiences era 1980.

RD: I’m a Detroit Tiger fan, so I want to know, what does the voice in Ray Kinsella’s cornfield have to say about the chances of the Tigers winning the World Series this year?

WPK: Slim and slimmer.

RD: What do you say about Kevin Costner’s portrayal of Ray Kinsella?

WPK: Couldn’t be better.

RD: You were happy with Field of Dreams. What about the other film and TV adaptations of your work?

WPK: Pretty pitiful. I was lucky to get one good adaptation. Field of Dreams the Musical is lurking in the wings. Hope it will provide my daughters with a ton of money someday.

RD: You’re also known for writing about First Nations people. What sparked your interest in that area?

WPK: Found a good voice and took advantage of it. Each of my specialties was like a prospector discovering a vein of gold. I worked each until the vein was exhausted.

RD: In 2010, you said that the state of the book industry was such that you would not be able to break in if you were just starting out. It’s 2015 now. In your opinion, is the situation better or worse than it was five years ago?

WPK: I think it is worse for a mid-list author such as myself. You either have to sell like Stephen King or go with the small presses where there is no money. I was lucky to have been in the right place and time for many years.

RD: What would improve the situation for mid-list writers?

WPK: Less greed on the part of both publishers and chain booksellers. It is easier for them to publish and sell only blockbusters and leave the real work to small presses.

RD: Though you are a mid-list writer, has your writing made you a comfortable living? Would you say the larger portion of your income came from your novel sales or your short story sales?

WPK: In the 70s and 80s, I made a good living. Have managed my funds carefully, will never have to go out and cadge quarters from the tourists. My main income came from failed movie and TV options.

RD: I read somewhere that you were reading books when you were five years old. What are some of your childhood favorites?

WPK: Discovered W. Somerset Maugham in about 5th grade. Didn’t understand the plots, but loved the descriptions.

RD: And for that matter, what are some of the best books you’ve read over the years?

WPK: The Great Gatsby, the finest novel ever written. Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, Anne Tyler, In Watermelon Sugar, Richard Brautigan, What The Crow Said, Robert Kroetsch.

RD: Outside of baseball and reading, what are some of your fondest childhood memories?

WPK: Uneventful, though isolated childhood. Good, kind, stable parents.

RD: You’re a tournament Scrabble player. What is your highest achievement in the game? And how long have you been playing?

WPK: I’ve played tournaments for about 20 years. My daughter, Erin, who lives with me, also travels to tournaments. While I’m not a top division player, I’ve won a number of tournaments. Won Portland one year at about 19/3.

RD: You’re going to be 80 on May 25th. Do you have anything special planned for your birthday?

WPK: Going to a Scrabble tournament in Edmonton in May, so will celebrate with family there. My agent, Carolyn Swayze, is planning a “surprise” party on the actual day.

RD: This last question is from your novel Shoeless Joe. If you could do anything you wanted to do–if you could take time and turn it in your hands like rubbing up a new baseball; if you could stop somewhere in time, and in the silence and mystery and calm of that situation you could have a wish…?

WPK: I lost my wife Barbara to cancer two years ago. I would give whatever time I have left to spend one more day with her.

 

 

Revving the Engine

I got a list of ideas for short stories that I’m going to start working my way down tomorrow. I’m pretty excited about the first story on the list. I’d start today, but I like to do other things on Saturdays and Sundays. I’ll probably see about getting over to my mom and dad’s house in a little while, or I might start burning the yard waste in the backyard if it’s not too windy.

Agents Queried

I spent the week querying agents for Novel #1, which I finished last year. There’s a list of agents and agencies on querytracker.net and I covered the entire list. There are over a thousand agents on this list, but only 81 of them were right for me and this novel. If just one of these agents offers to represent me, that would be great, but it’s very likely that none of them will. If that’s the case, I’ll try to win them over with the next book,

I’m going to relax for the rest of week and let my brain grow back. I’ll start writing short stories next week.

An Old Prologue

This is the prologue of a novel I was working on years ago. I decided to post it here because it’s out of date. I like my thrillers to be contemporary and this prologue is obviously set during the war in Iraq, which has been over for a while now. I don’t want to throw it out and I don’t know what else to do with it, so why not share it. This is just the prologue, the rest of the novel is not included because I still might use it.

—————————————————

The Tigris flowed as brown in the moonlight as it would during the daylight hours. The smell irked Paul. Raw sewage and decay. Drinking tap water in the city was discouraged, but not everyone listened. He remembered the treatment plant that the United States repaired a few years ago only to have insurgents raid the place and destroy it again.

He watched as Omar led his team to the front door of the three-story apartment building. They slipped inside and disappeared. Paul hung back with the American squad. The Iraqi soldiers would make the raid. Paul’s team was only to cover the outside of the building.

They had strong evidence that an apartment on the second floor housed three active members of the al Qaeda terrorist organization. But things were looking better in Baghdad than they have in a long time. The insurgents were still out there stirring trouble where they could, but the river of extremists was drying up as more and more grew weary of the war and encouraged peace. Just the other day Paul saw a man and woman walking hand in hand, free and happy, in an area that had once been declared unsafe.

But the war wasn’t over yet and no one expected the US troops to leave for another year or two. But things were getting better. Plans to repair the treatment plants were underway. The Tigris might never be clean again, but things were moving in the right direction.

Things were getting better.

A light came on in an apartment on the second floor of the building. A man walked past a large picture window. A moment later another light came on. It was 3 o’clock in the morning, most people in the city were sleeping and Paul had expected the people here to be sleeping too. Had the suspects spotted the troops outside, or were they somehow made aware of the troops inside? Paul was behind a large bush with another soldier and the rest of his team was just as careful to remain out of sight.

No, they couldn’t have been spotted. And if they were spotted, why had the suspects turned the lights on and given away their cover of darkness? No, something else was going on, and at three in the morning. Could be insomnia or it could be something else.

Two men appeared at the window, by their hand gestures Paul judged they were making small talk. Non-threatening behavior, he decided.

“Tell Omar the suspects are awake,” he said to Chip, who was down on one knee and weapon pointed through the branches of the bush. “They appear non-threatening at the moment, but his team should be ready for surprises.”

Chip spoke into his mouthpiece. Omar’s radioman rogered.

The two men at the second floor window turned to someone or something that could not be seen from the ground outside, and then their hands went up. A moment later three Iraqi soldiers came into view, their AK47s pointed in the faces of the two suspects.

Paul couldn’t make out the orders the Iraqi soldiers shouted at the suspects, but when the suspects did not react fast enough the soldiers grabbed them and yanked them to the floor. Two soldiers stood over the suspects while the third bent down to apply handcuffs.

Then Omar stepped up to the window and looked out toward the bush Paul was behind. His first finger and thumb formed a circle

“It’s all clear,” Paul said. “I’m going in. You guys stay out and watch the doors.”

Chip bobbed his head and Paul started away. The raid went well, not a shot was fired. He had no doubt the men who had been at the window were two of the suspects whose faces were printed on the paper he and Omar both had a copy of.

He entered the building. The landlord apparently cared a great deal about the place. The red carpet that made the floor of the foyer looked as if it had just been vacuumed and the walls had been repainted not so long ago. Photos of Baghdad’s more pleasant sites lined the wall beside the flight of stairs, but Paul didn’t waste time looking at them as he headed up to the second floor. A hallway cut across the top of the stairs and he looked both ways before stepping out into it.

He carried his M16, butt at shoulder, barrel pointed down and finger on the trigger, as he moved along the hallway. But there was no apparent threat. A few doors were open and people in their pajamas looked out, but Paul only had to glance at them to know they were simply curious residents.

At last he reached the door with an Iraqi soldier standing outside.

“The room is clear,” the guard said in English, his Arabic accent heavy.

Paul gave a nod and relaxed his finger on the trigger before he entered the apartment. He made his way through a short hallway and emerged in a nicely kept living room. Nice in a manner that it was clean and fashionably furnished, but on the coffee table was an automatic handgun. An Iraqi soldier reached under the couch. He gave a bark of laughter and fished out an AK47.

There were other things in the apartment. Black ski masks on one chair and questionable articles of clothing. When Paul glanced into the kitchen he saw three artillery shells, one was on the table with tools scattered around it.

Paul didn’t have to ask what the suspects were doing with the artillery shells. He had been in Iraq long enough to know the effect of IEDs. Just about every Humvee on patrol was equipped with a Warlock because of these things. But the Warlock devices were not perfect. The devices attempted to block the radio waves from the cell phones insurgents used to set off the IEDs. The Warlocks worked much of the time, but not always. The roadside bombs still remained the enemy’s most effective weapon.

The suspects lay facedown on the floor, their hands cuffed behind their backs. Omar knelt over them and lifted each head by the hair so Paul could see the faces of the men. They were positive matches to two of the men pictured on the paper he had folded in his breast pocket.

Omar stood up. “Malik Zaid isn’t here.”

Malik Zaid al-Ahmad was the third man pictured on the paper. Age 42, six feet tall, slender and he had a wicked scar running down his right cheek. He was also the primary target of this raid. A man highly educated and overly intelligent, he was believed to be the mastermind behind countless pranks that took more lives than Paul wanted to know about.

“We need to search the building,” Omar said. “Are your men still outside watching the doors?”

“Yes,” Paul said.

“Good, leave them there. If he’s here somewhere, he must not leave.”

Malik Zaid had been responsible for the deaths of more Iraqi soldiers than American soldiers. He was also responsible for the deaths of hundreds of innocent civilians. Malik Zaid didn’t operate out of anger like many of his comrades; instead he was in it for the pleasure. Or that’s what people said. Paul didn’t know one way or the other, but the attacks that were supposedly laid out by Malik Zaid seemed to have been conducted with a humorous mindset.

Omar wanted him caught as badly as Paul did.

The radioman called in three more squads to help search the building. He also sent a confirmation to Chip that the Americans were to remain outside and assure no civilian left the building.

A soldier who had been searching a bedroom came into the living room and handed a metal file box to Omar. He said something in the Arabic language and then returned to the bedroom.

“He says there are documents in this box, but he can’t read them.” Omar sat down on the couch and opened the box. Inside was a folder containing a few sheets of paper. Omar looked at the first page and scoffed. “My English is good, if I’m speaking,” he said. “I have not learned to read it yet.”

Paul accepted the folder and lowered himself into the cozy armchair behind him. The pages were handwritten, a little sloppy, but in English. He read the first page. It was a letter to someone, very likely any of the three men who had resided in the apartment. The writer had taken care not to address his “friend” by name. He also referred to a “meeting place”, but gave no hint as to where the meeting place was located.

There were ten pages altogether, none were dated, but each was a new letter with the same handwriting, and each letter was signed The Doctor. That was all the identification the writer would give. Paul suspected the letters had been mailed out over a period of time, months or even years could have passed between the first letter and the last letter for all he knew.

The letters told about the transferring of money and the willingness of the Doctor to see something through, if only his Friend could deliver the necessary products. In the last letter the Doctor said he had received the delivery, he would be at the meeting place when his Friend arrived—no time specified—and they could go for a cup of coffee before “activating the mission”.

I have applied the device to six of my patients and I will continue to do so as long as we are working together. You only need to lay in the final touches and the rest will take care of itself.

Paul read the last letter twice. He didn’t know what the Doctor was talking about, but that such letters were found in this place troubled him. It might be nothing or it might be something. Chances were high that they wouldn’t be able to track down the Doctor and get to the bottom of this, but Paul decided he needed to get the letters to his superiors so an investigation could get underway.

He closed the folder and stood up.

“This is important,” he said and started for the door. “I’m not sure what it means, but we have to check it out.”

Why I Won’t Tell Anyone What My Novel is About

From time to time, I’m asked what the novel I’m writing is about. I always give the same boring answer: “I prefer not to say, but it’s a thriller.”

If you had asked me a couple years ago, I might have been more than happy to tell you. But, it seems like every time I talked about my work, I would later feel embarrassed about it and start kicking myself for having pulled the rabbit out of the hat before it was cooked. This can lead to me feeling discouraged about the project, and I might give up on it.

There’s a part of me that does want to talk about my work, to share some details, give people an idea of what the story is about. That part of me wants to tell everyone what I’ve been doing in the story, to even display chapters for you to read before the work in question is done. But I have that part of me on a gag order, allowing him to only share my progress stats.

I’m not the only writer who shares progress stats on a daily basis. Cherie Priest is the writer who inspired the progress form I use on Facebook. At the bottom of almost every one of Priest’s blog entries, she posts her progress stats. But Priest is a bit different from me, she might reveal a little bit on what she’s been doing in the story, she might give an idea on what it’s about and she certainly isn’t uncomfortable about revealing the title.

I won’t give you the title anymore. Now all my projects are numbered, Novel #1, Novel #2, etc. If the novel is accepted by a publisher and is on its way to becoming a published book, then I will probably start giving the title and talking a bit about the book, and I’ll probably put up a few sample chapters. All for the sake of promotion. But at this point, I’m not very comfortable sharing anything about the book, except that it’s being written.

This attitude of mine might change in time.

What I’m Doing Different

In my blog post a few days ago, I said I finished four novels and hundreds of short stories, and that I had begun more than a hundred novels, but never finished them. I also begun but never finished just as many short stories.

I would say I have been very productive as a writer, maybe even more productive than a lot of writers I know. But most of the writers I know have more sales than I do. Why might this be? Well, aside from the fact that they’re better writers than I am, they have also submitted a lot more stories for publication than I have.

I have (or I had) a tendency.to give up on my projects fast. Even the ones I’d finished, I would decide that they were terrible and no amount of rewriting was going to make them better, and eventually I would throw them out. I threw out a lot of projects, hundreds of them, and some of them probably weren’t half as bad as I thought they were.

Those of you who have been following me on Facebook for the last year or so have probably seen me posting several times about restarting a novel, and more recently I went over what was already written to rewrite parts and get the story back on track so I could move it forward again.

That’s what I’m doing different. Instead of throwing the project out and starting a new one, I’m sticking to the first project until it’s done, cleaned up and ready to go. I don’t care how many times I have to rewrite, or dump the whole thing and restart from a scratch, the project is going to get done and it’s going to be made perfect before I start the next one. It will be the same for every project that follows. I’m not giving up on my projects anymore. I wish I had gotten into this mindset years ago.

Questions About My Writing

I get asked these questions a lot, so I want to answer them all.

1) Are you still writing?

Yes, I am. It was never just a phase I was going through. I’ve been serious about writing since I was a teenager. Now it’s more like an addiction. I couldn’t stop even if I wanted to. Rest assured that I will be writing until the day I die, even if I’m not selling anything. I write because I have to. It’s who I am. I would be very unsettled if I wasn’t writing.

2) How is your writing going?

Seeing how I’ve been getting in some writing almost every day, and over the last week or so, I’ve been plugging wordage into two seperate projects. That alone says that my writing has been going fairly well, though I wish I was getting in a few thousand more words a day than I have been.

3) How many books have you written?

I think the proper question is “How many books have you finished?” I have to think about that. I finished my first book when I was sixteen, and I’m thirty-six now. So, ticking off the titles of the novels that I remember finishing., there’s Reap It, Colin, The Awakened Dawn and Off Target. I feel like there’s one or two more that I’ve finished, but I’m not sure. Next to the novels, over the years, I’ve finished hundreds of short stories, some of them were actually novellas, which means “short novel”. I’ve also finished a few non-fiction articles. I’ve begun more than a hundred novels and I got a long way into plenty of them before the project came to a dead halt for one reason or another, the most common reason being “It just wasn’t working.” And I have started several projects over more than a few times. So, I lost track of exactly how many novels, stories and articles I’ve written.

I’m planning to finish some of the novels that have been left unfinished.

4) Can I read your books?

You’re more than welcome to go looking for Reap It, Colin and The Awakened Dawn. They might be at a landfill somewhere, hopefully under a pile of rotten diapers. If you find them, go ahead and read them, but I doubt you’ll be impressed. I still have Off Target on hand, but no one gets to read it until I’m done fixing it up and it is a mess. When that’s done, the only people who will get to see it are editors or possibly first readers. Unless it’s published, it’s going to stay under the hat.

5) What do you write?

I know a lot of writers, and most of them are more focused on writing certain genres, such as science fiction, fantasy or horror, romance, mystery, etc. I’m sure they could write any kind of book, but their main focus is on certain genres.

I have a list of novels I want to write (And I’ve gotten much better at finishing what I’ve started, so they’ll probably all get done at some point.). Looking down that list now, there are currently 39 novels planned in advance. Some are thrillers, some are science fiction, fantasy, romance, mystery, historical, horror. Some are young adult projects and others are intended for more mature readers. I’ve even kicked around the idea of writing children books, So, it’s hard to put me in a category.

I will probably use pseudonyms for several of these projects.

6) Has your writing ever been published?

Yes, I’ve had a few pieces published. But you gotta understand, my first few publishing credits, I don’t count them. I was still young, still learning the ropes, and I… I sent stories to non-reputable markets. They didn’t pay me a cent and they published my stories in their shitty magazines. I’m still embarrassed. I no longer submit to those markets, and after getting a lot of positive feedback from reputable editors, I have high standards now.

Currently I have two sales that I’m proud of. I have a story in the anthology Legends of the Mountain State 2, which was edited by Bram Stoker Award winning writer and editor Michael Knost, and Mike paid a good sum for my story. I also had a non-fiction article published in Strange Horizons, which is an online magazine and I’m pretty sure the article is still in their achives. Both markets paid well.

7) But haven’t I seen other stories by you?

No, you haven’t. I was an assistant editor at Hadley Rille Books and I had a hand in the creation of a few anthologies. I didn’t write any of those stories, I was just an assistant editor. I’ve also done editorial work for a few different magazines.

____

I hope that answers the questions.