(seven points)

Kathe Koja

There aren’t many writers who have achieved what Kathe Koja has achieved in her career (this includes a Locus Award and PKD nomination). In this weeks ‘Words from the Wise’ Kathe imparts seven simple points which have served her well over the years. One of the most interesting and, dare I say it, wise pieces of assistance she offers us here involves keeping a hold of your old work. It might be utterly cringe worthy delving into that database of archived stinkers – but the more you cringe, the more you may have developed as a writer…


The question posed to each author is – “A young author comes to you seeking advice. They’re riddled with insecurities and completely overwhelmed by the publishing industry. What are your Words from the Wise?”

KK – Stop worrying about the publishing industry, unless you plan on making it your career. You’re going to be, you are, a writer. That’s entirely different.


Read as much as you write, read promiscuously, passionately, thoroughly, critically.

Find what works for you, what concantenation of schedule and desire makes it possible to get your writing done, then stick to that. Every day. Every day.

Keep some of your old work. If it begins to embarrass or infuriate you when you reread it, rejoice, you’re further down the path!

Remember it is a path, never a destination – you want always to be traveling, improving, not arriving at some dead pinnacle of “success.”


Honor your mentors. Help your colleagues. Encourage the ones who come after you.

Love the words that make the worlds you make.

WORDS FROM THE WISE/PART 15 – Jonathan Maberry

WORDS FROM THE WISE/PART 15 – Jonathan Maberry



(five points)

Jonathan Maberry

Philadelphia horror writer Jonathan Maberry lets us in on the five steps that got him to where he is now – New York Times best-selling author and five times winner of the Bram Stoker Award…


The question posed to each author is – “A young author comes to you seeking advice. They’re riddled with insecurities and completely overwhelmed by the publishing industry. What are your Words from the Wise?”

There are several important things to know about becoming successful as a writer. Things I wish I’d know earlier in my career.11416405_10153947960298270_3763899961815504375_o

First –be very good at what you do. Having a natural gift for storytelling is great, but you need to learn the elements of craft. That includes figurative and descriptive language, pace, voice, tense, plot and structure, good dialogue, and many other skills. Good writers are always learning, always improving.

Second –learn the difference between ‘writing’ and ‘publishing’. Writing is an art, it’s a conversation between the writer and the reader. Publishing is a business whose sole concern is to sell copies of art. Publishing looks for those books that are likely to sell well. There is absolutely no obligation for anyone in publishing to buy and publish a book totally on the basis of it being well written. It has to be something they can sell. A smart writer learns how to take their best writing and find the best way to present it to the publishing world, and then to support it via social media once it’s out.


Third –you are more important than what you write. A writer is a ‘brand’. That brand will, 12654503_10205107522280269_3989685437378407991_nideally, generate many works –books, short stories, etc. Each work should be written with as much passion, skill, love, and intelligence as possible, but when it’s done, the writer moves on to the next project. And the next.

Fourth –finish everything you start. Most writers fail because they don’t finish things.  Be different.

Fifth –don’t try to be perfect. First drafts, in particular, are often terrible. Clunky, badly-written, awkward, filled with plot holes and wooden dialogue. Who cares? All a first draft needs to have in order to be perfect is completeness. It is revision that makes it better, and makes it good enough to sell.

So, don’t beat up on yourself if your early drafts are bad. Everyone’s early drafts are bad. Everyone.





(It’s OK to be insecure)
Rick Moody

We’re all insecure about something–in fact, I’ve re-written this introduction twice already. It’s tough being a creative person these days too, especially when your average writer has to be a multi-platform marketing expert. Blogging strategies, click-bait titles, SEO and social media distribution are all as important as good grammar, luscious prose and a killer plot-line.

But the thing is, even people like Rick Moody get insecure – and he’s the award winning author of cult sensations ‘The Ice Storm’ and ‘Garden State’ (both were adapted for the screen to similar praise) AND The New Yorker listed him on their “20 Writers for the 21st Century” list. Rick says ‘insecurities are a good thing’.


The question posed to each author is – “A young author comes to you seeking advice. They’re riddled with insecurities and completely overwhelmed by the publishing industry. What are your Words from the Wise?”

RM – These strike me as two slightly disparate issues you ask about. The first issue is: the young author is riddled with insecurities. And so let me address this issue first.149970_1629806338805_8243220_n I too am riddled with insecurities. And it has always been this way. While it is fair to say that I used to have more of these insecurities than I do now, I am not free, nor do I ever expect to be free of them. And yet I imagine this to be a good thing not a bad thing. Why is that? Why are insecurities good? Because insecurity indicates sophisticated thinking about the possible outcomes in life. Life, as any thinking person knows, is incredibly difficult, sometimes heartbreaking, but also frequently joyous. It is noteworthy for its moral ambiguity and its frequent lack of justice.  Also for its fleeting and ephemeral poignance.

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To write into this conundrum, to write into the uncertainties and difficulties of life is to speak the truth about what it means to be human, and that is the job of the writer. Confidence, or at least the veneer of confidence, is easy to come by, and it is usually the province of people who are a little deluded about their ambitions.

While it is not infrequent that writers are ludicrously certain of their greatness, the best writers, the most insightful and lucid writers, are the ones who see how frail beauty and joy are in the category four hurricane that is modern life. They are right to be riddled with insecurities.

The perfect work comes from this very place.

Now, the second issue is: the young author is also, apparently, “overwhelmed by the publishing industry.” This is exactly not the thing to be insecure about, in my view, because it’s not worth thinking about for very long at all. The industry, that den of thieves, cannot be trusted, doesn’t care about you, will never care about you, is constantly heading downhill toward the crassly commercial and poorly written, it even celebrates its crass and commercial interests, etc. etc. But these facts are ancillary to writing entirely. Great writing does not depend on the publishing industry. It depends on the will of the writer. The goal, every day, should be to get up and write a few lines regardless of what else is happening in the world, such that you might feel some pride and joy about a paragraph or two, or at least a sentence.


If you do that for long enough, you will have a book, and then you can, if you like, bother yourself about what to do with the book. But that’s not a requirement. It is not a requirement that you publish your book with the publishing industry. The life of a writer is made out of episodes of craft, not out of publications. The writing episode is the part you can control. I happen to think it’s true that all work that is good at a certain level will ultimately be published, simply because writing of great quality is rare. But I also think the question of publication is secondary to the craft of writing, which is the part that I really love. So I say don’t ever worry about the publishing industry. Just worry about trying to capture the poignant uncertainties and complexities of life.

That’s plenty daunting enough! And well worth the effort.





(Take it seriously but have a back-up)
Nick Antosca

Making a living off of your writing is going to be a long shot – unless you’re willing to sacrifice all artistic integrity by making Xerox models of 50 Shades of Grey or Twilight just to make a buck (it can be awfully tempting). Even the best writers had day jobs. Burroughs worked as an exterminator, Bukowski as a mail carrier in a post office…even Agatha Christie was an Apothecaries’ assistant by day!

Nick Antosca has five books to his name and has written teleplays for shows such as Hannibal and Teen Wolf. Today he kindly bestows some of his infallible wisdom.


The question posed to each author is – “A young author comes to you seeking advice. They’re riddled with insecurities and completely overwhelmed by the publishing industry. What are your Words from the Wise?”

NA – Have a backup plan or a day job so you can write what you want.  Otherwise (unless you have money in the bank or family that will support you) you will always be chasing the next freelance paycheck or notion of what publishers will be looking for… No one really makes a living just from being a fiction writer or journalist.  I mean, a few people do — literally a few hundred in the entire world.  The rest teach or have day jobs.  1619094_10100877822413644_2333326650173338650_nZadie Smith teaches.  Jonathan Lethem teaches.  They all teach for extra money.  Treat writing like a hobby even if you are earning money at it — do it because you love it.

And AT THE SAME TIME treat it like a job and take it very seriously.  Treat it like a job where you are both the boss and the employee.  Write every day, ideally in the morning when your brain is fresh, before the day gets screwed up.  Your most productive hours are almost certainly going to be the first two hours after you wake up.  Also, read a lot.
It provides nourishment and makes the writing come more easily.

Write with an outline.  Writing the outline counts as writing.  A lot of the most important creative work is done before the writing begins.
If you have no plan and don’t know how the pieces fit together, you will run into trouble.  You will find interesting surprises, but you are undermining yourself by embarking without a map.  You don’t have to stick exactly to the map if you find yourself disliking the route, but you’re in better shape if you have it.
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 Also, consider writing for TV (if you like watching TV).  It’s very difficult to get the first job but, unlike in movies, writers control the medium, and you actually can make a living doing it.

Find out more from Nick – HERE

Info about the upcoming Friday the 13th project Nick is attached to write – HERE

Nick’s Twitter – HERE





(Learn to write)
John Shirley

Now…it might sound like an obvious piece of advice, but knowing how to write is one of the most crucial parts of getting your stuff picked up. It doesn’t always have to be flowery or convoluted – but it does have to be mindful of pace, structure and, of course, the flow of the prose. John Shirley is the Bram Stoker Award winning author of Black Butterflies, Demons, City Come A-Walkin’, the A Song Called Youth cyberpunk trilogy, Doyle After Death, Wyatt in Wichita, Bleak History, and many other books. He was co-screenwriter of THE CROW and has written for television. Here’s his Words from the Wise…


The question posed to each author is – “A young author comes to you seeking advice. They’re riddled with insecurities and completely overwhelmed by the publishing industry. What are your Words from the Wise?”

12308245_10153427876003585_2082481953368552587_nJS – Chris Kelso: In answer to your question re the young writers tormented by uncertainty about the publishing industry and what to do…that’s funny, so am I. That’s because everything has changed. The industry is both vaster–and more selective. It’s both larger and more restricted. It’s huger–and more specialized. The peculiar truth that has always been true, however, is that on the one hand, it’s hard to break in; on the other, they are always looking for new, fresh talents. They do ask themselves who will write the new Hunger Games, and so on. So while it’s hard to break through, weirdly–they’re always looking for people. Persistence helps. But you’ve got to have a good product too.

Something that’s quite new is the fact that people occasionally do, now, jump from general self publishing and ebook self publishing, to successful book publishing. The extreme case of this was The Martian–the novel was self published. It sold enough that it was picked up by a major. I haven’t read the book–my wife has and assures me it’s very enjoyable and intriguing and generally well researched. Well written. So you see, you can’t just spout some new story idea you have–“zombie children that you adopt and turn vegetarian!”–and because it’s a new variation, really have hope that it’s going to break through. Just a variation is not enough-cultivate originality and strong, gripping writing, based on being steeped in the strong gripping writing….It really has to be well written. And it has to be fairly literate–that is, the writer reads, and absorbs more than comics and books based on anime, or comics and books based on their favorite movie or television series. They don’t do most of their reading online, either. They read a lot of successful books, and classic books. They read books of short stories of all kinds. They get a feel for voices and language and sentences and paragraphs and pacing and chapters and, especially, characters. They get a sense of what good, fun to read but realistic dialogue is…from reading. I mention this because it seems to be lacking in lots of new writers.images (1)


When you read, read as if interrogating the writing. Enjoy it, but also notice how it’s put together. Some people do this more naturally than others. I absorbed it like a sponge; some people have to work at it. They have to notice what makes one writer’s voice, their style, different than another’s. This may mean reading the same text two or three times. Once for enjoyment, later for analysis.

The markets out there seem to me to be less penetrable than they used to be–there are fewer companies reading manuscripts that come in unsolicited. So, this means, you can 1) try and make a name with yourself with short fiction in magazines that consider fiction from unknowns and 2) Try to get a literary agent. You can try to meet an agent (and editors) at a convention for the kind of writing you like. Science fiction, mystery conventions, whatever. You can finish an entire novel–typed according to the formats you can find described in books and articles–and one with an interesting title and simple but fairly original concept, then find places to pitch it to an agent. Research that. It happens…

Go to readings and literary events. Follow journals that describe the publications and markets for the genre you like, if you’re writing genre (and know what genre means–look it up if you don’t know). Locus Magazine is a good one to start at for science fiction or fantasy. Google these things.

But most of all, write–to learn to write, write. Write what you would want to read…and try to be original enough that you’re going to grab people’s attention…

You can check out more advice from John HERE






(Stop listening to yourself)
Weston Ochse

Writing isn’t just an isolated act, it’s also an introspective one. Too much free time sitting at your computer desk means more opportunities to let your mind ramble on and turn those petty, irrational insecurities and doubts into unshakable psychological handicaps. So, what do you do?

Weston Ochse says – ‘stop listening to yourself, dammit!’

The question posed to each author is – “A young author comes to you seeking advice. They’re riddled with insecurities and completely overwhelmed by the publishing industry. What are your Words from the Wise?”

WO – If I’m unable to enlist him (or her) into my cult of personality and make him an FOW (Follower-Fan-Friend of Weston), which is doubtful, then I’d probably, grudgingly, give advice, knowing that I’ll soon be competing with the young upstart for literary work.

westonI mean, the field is small enough anyway, to give advice is to cut off my own arm. Dispensing my hard-won knowledge would be akin to slitting my own creative throat. Still, in a Ghandiesque moment that would make Ben Kingsly and Martin Sheen proud, I’d sit the young sad sack of a writer down and have them attend me at my knee. What I’d say to them was said to me, when I was a young upstart and the likes of F. Paul Wilson, Tom Picirrilli and Peter Straub had their own Ghandiesque moments, as I attended them at their knees.

I’ve since synthesized their words into this statement.

“You’re a new writer. You don’t know what you don’t know. You haven’t been widely published, if at all, and no one knows who you are. Basically, you don’t know much. So why are you listening to someone who doesn’t know anything?”

This means you. Stop listening to yourself.WESTON2

How is it possible you can judge yourself or give yourself advice if you don’t know anything?

You shouldn’t have any insecurities at all. You should be free to write whatever you want in whatever style you want. You might invent a new style. You might create a new way of employing narrative. Stop listening to people who don’t know anything and free yourself. Just write, dammit, and don’t pay attention to anything except the page and the characters cavorting in your brainpan.







(Bleed for the reader and kill the ego)
Hal Duncan

I’ve known Hal Duncan for about five years now and been aware of his work for years prior to taht–I’d read his début tome, ‘Velum’, long before we became friends.

In fact, it was my fan-mail to him which initiated dialogue (which is kind of embarrassing to read back to myself now). Since that cheesy, gushing letter to my idol all those years ago, Hal has written stories for my Dog Horn magazine, Imperial Youth Review, contributed to my shared world collection Slave Stories – Scenes from the Slave State, and we’ve even edited a beautiful anthology together called Caledonia Dreamin’ (published by Eibonvale). It’s kind of a surreal experience and i’m grateful for his friendship and guidance to this day, but why did Hal bother replying to my fan-mail? I was an unpublished and insecure nobody. If you ever meet the man himself, Hal’s most attractive feature, outside of his remarkable prose – is his complete lack of ego. He’s won the Tähtivaeltaja Award, Gaylactic Spectrum Award For Best Novel and been nominated for the Locus Award for Best Fantasy Novel,World Fantasy Award for Best Novel, Locus Award for Best First Novel. Still no ego.

Here’s Hal…

The question posed to each author is – “A young author comes to you seeking advice. They’re riddled with insecurities and completely overwhelmed by the publishing industry. What are your Words from the Wise?”

HD – To turn Freud on his head: Where ego is, there id must be.

halOK, so we’re starting with the assumption that this young author isn’t just pottering away, making shit up for the fun of it, not giving a fuck what anyone else thinks. They have their ego invested in their work and want to see it actually published, but they’re acutely aware that they’re unpublished and unskilled–in some way, shape or form. You’re not intimidated by the publishing industry unless you’re desperate for that validation. And you’re not insecure about your writing unless you’re at very least missing the skill of judging it objectively. Both of these are ego problems, issues of insecure stance.

Our young author is presumably seeing a lack of publication as a lack of legitimacy, regardless of the fact that e.g. Kafka was never in print until after he died while innumerable piles of crap hit the bestseller lists daily. And they’re presumably angsting over quality, torn between the buzz they get from rereading what works, recognising its power, and second-guessing themselves based on the fact they know fine well they were blind to flaws in early writing which they can now see to be shite. In either case, without a specific problem in this or that domain (Which agent would be most sympathetic to my writing? What do you mean my omniscient PoV is crumbling into muddled third person limited?) it seems to me that our hypothetical young author is looking to me as a figure of perceived legitimacy and confidence, asking a question broad as can be:

How do I get to where you’re at?

Unpack that question to the core desire: a secure stance. If you want legitimacy, validation by publication, you can get any old shite into print via any vanity press, or by self-publishing, right? But is that going to really satisfy you? Is it going to be a legitimate feeling of legitimacy? No? Strip away the shallow lust for cash and/or kudos, and what you’re really yearning for is to know that someone got it. That someone clicked with your writing. That it mattered to them–really, seriously, as much as it matters to you, maybe even more. That’s a desire straight out of the id, a desire for communion, masked by the ego casting it in terms of bestseller lists and award nominations. You want to sate that desire, the only way to do so is listen to it, obey it by opening yourself up to write what matters to you. Commit to the stance of seeking communion.

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Open up and bleed for the reader and you’ll get that sense of legitimacy no matter if you’re languishing in small print runs and being overlooked for awards. Someone, somewhere will come back to you and say, This blew me away; and the only thing that will stop you hearing them and knowing that you made the connection, that the communion happened for them, is ego lying to you. The damnable self-sabotaging ego of a quasi-depressive outlook, a nagging voice in your head, shit-tinted glasses filtering out the truth. That ego needs to be taken out into the desert, shot and buried in a shallow grave.

Fuck the ego. Nothing will ever be enough if you listen to that bastard. Let that reader give you the confirmation of communion having happened, let the id be sated, and knowing that honesty works, your id will double-down on it. Poverty and obscurity will be only a pragmatic concern, inconveniences to a writing identity invested in communion and so taking that whole industry with its print runs and trophies as… means to an end. Side-effects and distractions, nuisances to be negotiated. Are you eating? Do you have a roof over your head? Are you making sweet sweet love to your reader(s) with your words? Well then, job done. In all the trials tribulations of unpaid bill and Amazon reviews, this is a stance to keep you steady: the communion is what matters.

That confirmation may not come back to you any time soon, to be sure. All the more reason to kill the ego, because if all you have to go on while you’re struggling to make the connection is the hope that you’re not pissing in the wind, then until such time as you get that payoff–not in cash or kudos but in a reader telling you how well it clicked for them–you need objectivity in reckoning your own work to underpin that hope with confidence. If you’ve passed the point where you think everything you write is awesome, if your eyes have opened up to the deficiencies in your craft, you can master this skill or that, grasp this or that technique, but there’s one craft skill that is fucking crucial, that will level you up, and that’s the skill of recognising what works and what doesn’t without ego interfering–preening over plus points to distract you from flaws or latching onto flaws as an excuse to throw in the towel.

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Pretending you didn’t clumsily stumble, crumbling in defeat because agility takes work–these are the stances ego will hoodwink you into thereby hamstring your development as a writer. Trusting the id is something you have to learn, I think. Inculcated with ego’s strategies of denial and defensiveness, shame and self-flagellation, we’re wired with this lying obfuscating fucker that serves only as an obstacle to self-improvement. Ego is bad stance out to perpetuate itself with fuckery and warp. Kill it with fire. No fucking mercy.

That’s my two cents worth, for any young author coming to me as some sort of figure of legitimacy and confidence, if they’re essentially seeing themself as on some sort of lower tier, unworthy by dint of a lesser publishing history (as if that was really an indicator) and/or inadequacies in their craft skills (in their opinion.) That part of yourself that’s on your knees as supplicant to the wise elder? That part of yourself looking for a received wisdom to resolve insecurities, to reveal the path by which you might ascend to “proper author” status? You want to leave that ego kneeling on the ground as you step up and back out of it, put a gun to the back of its head, and kill it execution-style. I mean the “want” part literally. Look inside yourself, and I’ll lay odds your id is yearning to be shot of this insecure bullshit. Go for it, I say. You know you wanna. Kill your ego.

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If you can do that, and thereby look at your writing from there on in with ruthless honesty, it’ll stand you in better stead, I think, than any sage advice I can dispense about dealing with the industry and/or perfecting one’s craft. I’m crap when it comes to the pragmatics of publishing as a profession, and distilling all the technical skills down to pithy axioms would be superficial. All I can really do, if you come to me as some sort of authority on this shit, asking me how you achieve the same, is tell you that I learned to trust my id’s judgement by learning when not to trust my ego’s. Stance seeks its own stability. Id, like water finding its own level, drives toward the resolution of niggles and irks. The more you trust it, the more you’ll have grounds to, as with each satiation you savvy a bit more of the craft that achieved it, your ego’s lies ever more transparent, your stance ever more secure.






(mental spreadsheets)
Lavie Tidhar

I was tracking the edits of my next novella, ‘The Folger Variation’ (and starting to get very frustrated and drained by the process!), when I decided to shut the document down and come back to it when I was feeling less demoralised by my own grammatical incompetance – Microsoft Review kept crashing too. Fuck it, I thought, time to scroll through Facepuke.

I was extra pleased to see a message pop up in my inbox from Lavie Tidhar. Lavie is a highly decorated author who writes across multiple genres. I asked him to offer a few of his ‘words from the wise’ and he replied almost instantly with the following bitesize nugget of insight. Keep a spreadsheet, apparently. You heard the man…

The question posed to each author is – “A young author comes to you seeking advice. They’re riddled with insecurities and completely overwhelmed by the publishing industry. What are your Words from the Wise?”

LT – A friend is just an enemy you haven’t made yet. You can write for posterity or you can write for money – it doesn’t matter, you’d get short-changed either way.

aaaaw1I’ll keep it short. The definition of a writer is someone who looks with seething envy and resentment at anyone more successful than them, and with unmitigated contempt at anyone less fortunate.

Keep a mental spreadsheet up to date at all times to know where you are. Review it endlessly. Conjure it up at three a.m.

It’s harder to sell a second (or third, or tenth) book than a first one. … always use ‘said’.

Never pay for drinks if you can help it. You can’t afford them anyway.

Never abuse a semi-colon.

WORDS FROM THE WISE/PART 8 – Arthur Nersesian

WORDS FROM THE WISE/PART 8 – Arthur Nersesian



(Control the little things)
Arthur Nersesian

With so much of your writing career depending on the decsions and opinions of other parties, it’s easy to feel powerless. Arthur Nersesian has created a framework diet for the budding, overwhelmed writer that focuses on taking hold of the aspects of your career that are controllable. Arthur received the Anahid Literary Prize for Armenian Literature and is the managing editor of the literary magazine, The Portable Lower East Side. Recently, Arthur was an English teacher at Hostos Community College, City University of New York, in the South Bronx.

The question posed to each author is – “A young author comes to you seeking advice. They’re riddled with insecurities and completely overwhelmed by the publishing industry. What are your Words from the Wise?”

AN – When young authors come to me “riddled with insecurities and completely overwhelmed by the publishing industry and asks for my words of wisdom,” I’d interpret that as they’re wondering how – or if — they’ll ever get published. The short answer is, there are no guarantees. Ultimately it’s one huge leap of faith. If lucky, you might see some cash here and there, but for most it’s trench warfare and you’re surviving on scraps. The only reason to be a writer is because you love writing: That’s it! It’s easier to make money doing absolutely anything else

A dHere’s how I did it: In the late 1980s, there were a couple of reference books, which still exists today, like the Guide to Literary Agents, and the LMP, that listed all major New York agents. I wound up flipping through these pages and eventually submitting my first novel — or more frequently a synopsis and opening chapter — to fifty-three of them. Six months later, I was shortlisted by two and finally selected by one. When he said he would represent me, I thought, this is it! I made it! He methodically sent my manuscript out to about thirty corporate publishers. One by one, over a two-year period, they rejected it.

I could write an incredible non-fiction thriller about how I wound up self-publishing my first novel, which would honestly implicate me in a few crimes but that turned out to be the easy part. Try going from bookstore to bookstore and hand-distributing your first work. Unless they had a consignment shelf, I usually got rejected. Even when it sold out and I was asked for re-stock, I usually wound up getting ripped off. But gradually the print run moved, and it even got a couple of early reviews.

It wasn’t until about a decade after finishing that first book that I received a barely legible postcard from a young fellow who said he was starting a small press. I thought it was a prank, but he had scribbled down his phone number, so I called it and we went for a $2 breakfast at a greasy spoon. There, he said he had enjoyed my little tome. Would I be interested in joining him in this maiden publishing voyage? Every bone in my body said, this was a bad idea. But nearly forty, single, broke, what had I to lose? With almost no expectations, the book finally came out. He sent out the ARCs, and surprisingly it started getting good reviews. It went through three printings quickly, until it finally got noticed up by a new agent who took it to a big press. Eleven years after I had written it, the book got picked up by a major publisher. Between music videos, MTV ran commercials for the book and it kept selling out. They kept reprinting it over and over and over. Currently it has sold over one hundred and twenty thousand copies and is still selling. What did I learn from all this? What could I have done differently? Nothing. I did everything I could. I wrote and hustled it as best as I could. It was all pretty much out of my control.

tryytOver the years, I’ve extracted four tiny pearls of wisdom, little things that you can control that do slowly make a difference. First and foremost, keep writing. During those eleven years, I never stopped writing. You can’t decide if you’ll get published, much less the amount of your advance, but no matter how poor and neglected you are, you can keep writing. And by writing, I don’t just mean spitting out pages, I mean maturing, getting feedback, expanding out of your comfort zone. Every aspect of your writing grows simultaneously: With time, you do find your unique voice that they all talk about. Out of cardboard cut outs you slowly draw and dimensionalize characters. From hackneyed formulas, plots slowly emerge, growing more sophisticated and intriguing. Most of all, you learn to edit, both your best and your worst. Reading is important, but steadily writing is absolutely vital.

Second, get to know your literary scene. Meet other writers. They can be valuable resources. Become familiar with your area bookstores and check out their reading schedules. The large corporate publishers rely on agents to find potential bestsellers. But if you’re not a literary rockstar, the small indies are more receptive and offer more opportunity for growth. The newer the publishers, the more eager they are to fill their catalogs. Learn who is publishing what and how the work you’re writing could potentially fit in. Hit the larger functions, like New York’s Brooklyn Book Fair, where editors stand at tables hustling their wares. These are great place for the quick approach. Sign on to their email lists, work your way in. You don’t need to be a big personality or a stalker, but a brief chat in which you introduce yourself as a writer, a few cursory words perhaps about the publishers’ books, can be surprisingly effective, something you can build on over time. Check out their websites. They usually mention whether they’re considering manuscripts and they constantly advertise their upcoming events where you can drop in.

yrtytrytMy third pearl of wisdom is find other streams of revenue. Specifically, look for jobs that don’t exhaust or demean you — jobs you can do while still writing. Though I was fired a couple of times over the years, the only time I ever quit a job was when it left me so exhausted I was unable to write before or afterward. Even if your first book gets a decent advance, keep in mind that if you divide that one-time payday over the years it took to write the book — minus the agent’s cut, taxes, etc. – it is usually less than a weekly pay check at a fast-food dive. My own diminished definition of a financially successful book is one that paid the rent (and only the rent) during the time it took to write it. The painful truth is, though you might see some nice pay days, you will still need to work in order to write.

As a young man, I did almost everything, from busboying to cooking, carpentry to housepainting, street vending to home attending, theater managing to legal proof reading, I taught English (and still do, ESL) to fiction workshopping. I run an affordable workshop in New York’s Greenwich Village, and invite anyone interested in joining to message me through Facebook. In short I have grabbed opportunities when and where they came up. And for the record, working while writing only made me stronger. It gave me greater value of the free time I had. It also grounded me, providing endless fodder for fiction. If I had massive trust fund and lived in spacious loft, I’m sure I never would’ve written a word.

When people are young, they are inclined to see the world in absolutes. Young writers want to MAKE IT AS A WRITER, or they are LOSERS. To me success is a daily task. At best it varies from book to book, and though it would be nice to have security, at very least, these precarious conditions do make life interesting. I won’t deny that for most, this is a tough life. You really have to want it, but it can be rewarding.

My last pearl is a little cliché, but vital. Life is a like a rocket ship. A little off course now leads to a lot off course later. Trying to bolster up or ease down with drugs or booze or even overeating — joys I’ve known only too well, but will eventually cost you in the end. Although writers are notorious addicts of every variety, consider healthy habits: jogging, yoga, or long walks. The physical release is a great counter-balance to the sedentary act of writing. It really does reduce the stress, a major cause of writers’ block, and keeps the body toned. Ultimately, if there’s any chance to reaching some pot of gold at the end of this precarious rainbow your odds are greatly improved.


WORDS FROM THE WISE/PART 7 – Graham Masterton



(Establish rules of writing)
Graham Masterton

Rule are important. They protect us, enforce rights and solve conflicts. In a way, writing needs to follow a similar set of guidelines. We need structure and stability.
Graham Masterton has pretty much done it all. He has 10 rules of writing for you. Maybe he’s worth listening to…

The question posed to each author is – “A young author comes to you seeking advice. They’re riddled with insecurities and completely overwhelmed by the publishing industry. What are your Words from the Wise?”

GM – My answer to your specific question, Chris, is that new writers don’t have to be afraid of the publishing industry. They are always on the lookout for fresh talent. But do remember that they are running a business and so they are looking for work that will appeal to a specific market.. By all means be highly original, but don’t forget that publishers have to sell books to real people in order to make a living, and so they are not going to be interested in stories that are very difficult to understand or (on the other hand) that have been written about a million times before. My first horror novel THE MANITOU wasn’t about vampires or zombies or werewolves…it was about a Native American demon which had never been written about before and it sold half a million copies in six months. I am attaching some “Rules of Writing” which you may find helpful. They are not really hard-and-fast rules…more like suggestions..but I think new writers would do well to bear them in mind.

Rules of Writing
by Graham Masterton

10473200_905377139479276_2533824218907295254_nLESSON ONE: Don’t write, talk, and use your natural voice, as if you were telling the story out loud to a group of friends. If there is a knack to writing it is to tell a story without consciously ‘writing’ about it. So many amateur writers have a good tale to tell, but are too concerned about making an impression on the page. Forget the fancy similes and the impressive metaphors, just tell it like it is. But do learn your grammar, syntax, spelling, etc, otherwise your amateur status will really show. Just like a motor mechanic’s amateur status would show if he or she didn’t know how to fix an alternator.

LESSON TWO: Don’t describe, be there. Create a virtual world inside your head with weather, wind, noises, background music, smells and tastes. Forget about your PC … let it melt and walk through it.

LESSON THREE: Never use cliches (except in dialogue where a character might reasonably be expected to talk in cliches). I recently read a new horror novel by quite a respected writer (well, bits of it, anyway) and he described total darkness by saying ‘not even my hand in front of my face … only darkness in its inky totality.’ I mean, please. That’s like saying night ‘was like a coal-cellar … only night in its nighty nightness.’ Later he says ‘a mental alarm bell jangled faintly deep inside my head.’ Where else does a mental alarm bell ring except inside your head?

LESSON FOUR: Be surprising. Use metaphors and similes that nobody has ever thought of before. This requires thought, observation, and a sense of poetic rhythm and above all simpicity. Don’t make the metaphor or simile so complicated that the reader is brought to a halt trying to work out what you’re saying. I described a pretty but dumb girl as ‘a small-town beauty queen who looked as if she had been hit in the head by half a brick.’

LESSON FIVE: Be rhythmic, and sensitive to the balance of your sentences. That’s why the study of good poetry is so important. It teaches you how to rearrange a sentence so that it reads more easily and yet emphasizes the words that you want the reader to pick up on. Read some Rupert Brooke:

‘In your arms was still delight, Quiet as a street at night; And thoughts of you, I do remember, Were green leaves in a darkened chamber, Were dark clouds in a moonless sky…’

Hear that brilliant repetition of ‘Were’? And at the end of the poem:
‘O infinite deep I never knew, I would come back, come back to you, Find you, as a pool unstirred, Kneel down by you and never a word, Lay down my head, and nothing said, In your hands, ungarlanded; And a long watch you would keep; And I should sleep, and I should sleep!’

Do you see how much emotion is conveyed by those repetitions and re-statements?

LESSON SIX: Do your research and then throw it away. Unless your readership is of the Tom Clancy/Clive Cussler type, who relish reading about 3455 XY-cluster missiles, tell your story secure in the knowledge that you know where it’s set and what your characters are like … give them expertise in what they do … but then tell the story.

LESSON SEVEN: Give your characters complete consistency. Don’t twist their motivations to suit your plot. Even if it gives you a headache, try to think what they would actually do. Writing fiction is acting out a play on your own. As Ivor Cutler said in Turkish Bath Play … ‘You’re going to do a play with just yourself?’ ‘Yes, there are 345 parts and I take all of them.’

GMI write with only the loosest of outlines since characters take on their own personalities and carry the story into all kinds of unexpected directions. With thrillers like Condor and Ikon I deliberately started writing several disparate plot-lines in order to set myself the challenge of tying them all up at the end. With Outrage, which I finished earlier this year (2003), I had absolutely no idea how it was going to end until the last 25 pages.

Nothing beats character and character-driven events. Real people behave in unexpected ways. That’s how life works. And that’s why so many thrillers are so wooden.
LESSON EIGHT: Avoid purple prose … something grisly can be much more convincing and disturbing if it’s described very simply. You don’t have to tell your readers what to think. If you’ve described it vividly enough they will have their own reactions. ‘If a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, where is the man who has so much that he is out of danger?’

LESSON NINE: Write with your eyes. Don’t see words, see people. Look out of the window and see the thunderclouds gathering on the other side of the river. Be conscious while you’re doing it of the woman standing close behind you. You keep lookng out of the window but she lays her hand on your shoulder. You can smell her perfume. She says, ‘You’re frightened, aren’t you?’ And you say, ‘No. Maybe. I don’t know. It was the way he looked at me when he left.’ ‘I don’t understand,’ she says, and you turn around to face her. ‘Nobody ever looked at me like that before. He looked as if he wanted to cut my guts out and hang me up on a hook.’

LESSON TEN: When you have finished writing a story, go through it and delete as many adverbs as you can, he said strictly. You’d be surprised how often they’re not necessary, and you can convey your effect without them. They tend to slow down the narrative and distract the reader by interjecting an authorial voice in the middle of the action. ‘I like you in that sweater,’ he said, pointedly. My writing advice is always the same … the message that William Burroughs gave me … disappear, vanish, don’t be there … pick up your keyboard and walk.

RESEARCH: Buying a few local papers is always a great way to get detailed background on a community’s character, the people who live there, and general social conditions. Another method I use a lot is to talk on the telephone to the information officers of the local chamber of commerce, usually with a specific query about ‘what’s the best hotel in town?’ or ‘where do young people hang out at night?’ which will yield more interesting results than ‘I’m writing a novel … tell me about your town.’ I also like to talk to police and fire chiefs about their day-to-day problems.gmn

I also try to get hold of as many photographs of the town or city as I can, such as postcards and guidebooks. You can learn more from what a town is trying to say about itself to the world at large than you can by living there. Guidebooks subtly expose weaknesses and senses of inferiority as well as ‘the unparalleled views from Snake Mountain’ or ‘the sumptuous colours of New England in fall.’

I prefer to research a book as I’m going along, since you can come across all kinds of interesting facts and odd perspectives when your mind is attuned to the subject that you’re working on, which might not normally strike you as relevant. Occasionally I have started a book and stopped dead, completely at a loss to know where it’s going to go next. The first chapter of Tengu remained an orphan for almost a year, as did the first two chapters of Spirit … and Trauma was only completed when Richard Chizmar asked me if I had any old novellas knocking around that he could publish for Cemetery Dance, and it ended up being shortlisted for an Edgar Allan Poe award.

Finally … remember that ultimately you are writing fiction and you are allowed to make things up. Research is simply to give your story ‘feel’ and ‘solidity’ rather than to impress your readers that you happen to know the name of the girl behind the florist’s counter at the corner of Woodward and Main.