Sunday, January 31, 2010

Flash Fiction February


Well, I get to kick off Flash Fiction February.  First things first: enter the Flash Fiction contest.  BIG PRIZES and PRESTIGE!  A win will go on your permanent record, although it probably won't land you an agent.  See Joyce's post immediately preceeding (SCROLL DOWN) this one for details.   WAIT!  Don't click the link yet, finish reading, then go back. 

We're hoping this is a very interactive and fun month.  Short month, short stories. So what’s the big deal?  I think most people believe that writing a short story is easy, or at least easier than writing a full blown novel.  Personally, I don’t think so.

When my aunt encouraged me to try writing, she meant I should write a short story, not a novel.  I didn't listen.  The first thing I wrote was a novel of 105,000 words.  That became A Reason For Dying.  My second manuscript is currently at 110,000 words.  While I was writing my first novel, I took an advanced fiction class put on by the University of Missouri’s MFA Program.  The entire class was dedicated to short stories.  About halfway through the class we were given an assignment to write an original short story.  Of course, it had to have a clear beginning, middle and end.  It had to be no more than 2,500 words.  Since the novel I was writing about was about a natural viral outbreak that was mistaken for an act of terrorism, I decided to write a story about the hopelessness of the Spanish Flu Pandemic. In Flew Enza was the title. 

The first draft was over 4,000 words.  After some serious cuts I pared it down to 3,200.  I went back gutted it down to 2,800 words and that was it.  I couldn’t take it down any further.  Or so I thought.  

That’s when I really learned about economy of words, that in a short story, every word counts. If a word can serve double duty, well it would have to take on the extra work.  Your adjectives and verbs need to be especially powerful.  Here are a few really bad examples.

A man leaves a bar.  Well, you could say:

He sipped the last of the cognac, flipped a twenty to the valet and slid behind the wheel of the Mercedes. 


He crushed the empty beer can against his forehead and stumbled across the parking lot to his rusty Chevy.

Basically the same action, but you’ve said volumes about the characters without going into details.  Each picture you gain from reading the sentence is completely different. 

In a novel you have the luxury to devote a chapter to show (not tell) the reader how stressed your character is.  In a short story that chapter can be replaced by:  She popped her last Valium and flushed it down her throat with the last of the whiskey.
Okay, that’s an extreme case, but I hope you get the point.

Anybody who has written a manuscript and prepared a query knows how difficult writing short concise stories can be.  Try taking a 105,000 word, high concept thriller and distill it down to a 5 page synopsis.  Then, concentrate it down to 2 pages.  Then one.  And finally, write 2 or 3 paragraphs that would go on the back jacket.  Oh, and try doing all that in the same writing style you used in the novel.  It’s some of the hardest writing you’ll ever do.  If it’s easy for you, you are insanely talented and I'm insanely jealous.

It is merely my opinion, but I think in the age of the Kindle, e-Reader, and now the iPad, short fiction could become popular again.  Priced similar to a song on iTunes, a digital short story is cheap, an easy read and in our fast paced lives, can be read in one sitting. 

I hope you enjoy this month and I really hope you give our little flash fiction challenge a go.  Flash fiction puts you to the extreme test and I’m putting up a signed copy of A Reason For Dying to the reader story I like best.

And just maybe, some special guests will stop by and post a flash fiction piece of their own.

So, what do you think?  Is it harder to write a good short story or a novel?

This just in.  Speaking of Short Fiction February, The Kill Zone members, a group of great authors and equally great people has released an anthology of short stories in ebook format callled Fresh Kills.  They are talking about it on their blog this week.  You might go visit them.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Living la Vida... Misa!!!

Ladies and gents, we have a guest blogger today! Please put your hands together for Misa Ramirez, author of the Lola Cruz mysteries from St. Martin's Minotaur!

And just because I couldn't resist, I snagged this from Misa's website so I could introduce her properly:

Q: Where does a blonde-haired, green-eyed All-American girl get a name like Misa Ramirez?

 A: Part A~ The Misa came from the Chinese cooks at the Orange Hut, a restaurant I worked at during my third year in college. They couldn’t quite say Missy, my nickname since childhood, and it came out Misa. They also called me ‘chicken legs’ in Chinese–small favor that one didn’t stick!

Part B~ I met my husband at the Orange Hut, so he’s only ever known me as Misa. Coincidentally, Misa also means Mass in Spanish, his native language. Coincidence? I don’t think so.

Part C~ Love and marriage equal the last name Ramirez and a passel of kids in a baby carriage.

Take it away, Misa!!!


When you aren’t a regular on a blog, it can be hard to know what to write, and how to present it to a brand new audience. Should I be funny, like in my books? Serious, because murder is serious business? Or some combination of the two, perhaps?

The truth is, I’m no stand up comedian (not by a long shot), but I am funny--in my books. Like any fleshed out character, I’m a combination of things. I love a good mystery (cutting my teeth on Nancy Drew, graduating to Agatha Christie, and branching out from there), read the occasional romance (Julia Quinn makes me laugh), but stick mostly with women’s and/or literary fiction (The Help is my new favorite book).

How, then, did I come to write mysteries, and why aren’t my mysteries serious instead of sexy and sassy?

The short answer is, I like the mystery device. What better way to propel a plot forward than to have a crime to solve?

The little-bit-longer answer is that crafting a puzzle that the sleuth and readers need to piece together is challenging--and fun; watching characters you love to spend time with grow and discover themselves--and each other--is rewarding. Having humor and wit in a book is icing on the cake.

For me, then, the mystery is only half the story. Lola Cruz came about long before the framework of Living the Vida Lola. She came to me as a character who was at once sassy, smart, sexy, determined, strong, feminine, Latina, black belt in kung fu, idealistic, American, sister, daughter, friend, and so much more. When it was time to figure out how I was going to tell her story, it made perfect sense to put her into an investigative role. Elements of the mystery, I knew, could pit Lola against external conflicts, as well as internal conflicts, of which she has many. It would force her to evaluate her life, her choices, her dreams, her desires, and her future (all in a funny, light way). Balancing her drive to be a detective, her traditional Mexican family, cultural expectations, her American sensibilities, and her love life is no easy task. Add in a mystery, and it’s a wild ride!

Lola Cruz Mysteries are character driven more than anything, but the mysteries really interest me. They’re ‘ripped from the headlines’, twisted, redefined, and Lola-fied. The mysteries shape, form, and/or enlighten Lola in her personal life or with her decision-making. They are equal, then, to Lola’s own story, which spans the arc of the series (we’re only on book 2, so have a ways to go yet).

I’m always curious to find out from mystery readers if you like your mysteries straight up, or do you enjoy the zany, romantic elements which are in many series?

Visit Misa and learn more about Lola Cruz Mysteries at, at Chasing Heroes, and at The Stiletto Gang.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Deadly Sins ... of Writing

by Joyce

Sorry for the late post--blame it on Verizon/Yahoo. I mean, really. What's the point of high-speed internet when the speed is slower than dial-up???

Back to the subject...

Yesterday, Annette touched on a topic that could be considered one of the Deadly Sins of Writing--time management. It's so easy to overextend ourselves, even those of us who don't work normal jobs. Sometimes I think managing our time is harder when we don't have regular jobs. It's really easy to tell ourselves, oh, I can do that later. Or we try to do too much in a day. What works for me is a schedule. It's certainly not a rigid one, but it's a schedule nonetheless. Otherwise, I'll put things off till later--which leads to the next deadly sin.

Procrastination. I'm a recovering procrastinator. I really have to work at not putting things off. My husband is the complete opposite. If someone mentions something to him, he'll get it done right away. Me? I have two weeks to do it, so I'll start on day thirteen. Drives him crazy. But I'm getting better.

I procrastinate with my writing, too. So far this year, though, I've made it my goal to stop doing that. And so far, it's working--for the most part. I've been scheduling my writing, just like I'd schedule a doctor's appointment, or lunch with a friend. There have been a few days (ok, more than a few) when I blew off the schedule, and it made me very cranky. Nothing went right on those days.

Tinkering is another deadly sin of writing, especially for me. I've been known to play around with the same chapter (hell, the same sentence!) and as a result, it takes me forever to finish a book. As hard as I try, I can't just sit down and pound out a rough draft. I have to edit as I go along. I finally quit fighting it and I'm much happier and much more productive. The trick was to not obsess. Every day I go back and read over what I wrote the day before and rewrite whatever is necessary. When I'm reasonably happy with it, I move on. It doesn't have to be perfect--just good enough.

I've set a goal to finish my first draft (which is really a second or third draft because of the way I work) by the end of March. I can do it. That's only 4 pages, 5 days a week, with a couple weeks leeway in case I backslide into procrastination and tinkering.

They don't have a 12 step program for that, do they?

So, what are your Deadly Sins of Writing? How do keep yourself on the straight and narrow?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Time Management HELP!

By Annette Dashofy

I need some time management help. Or maybe lessons in juggling.

Or maybe psychiatric treatment. What leads a person to completely overload their life? It’s a sickness. And I have it.

Remember last year when I was losing my mind as conference coordinator? At that time, I dreamt of being done with the job so I could have free time. And what do I do with free time? I fill it with other stuff.

Part of it, I blame on my darling hubby. A few months ago, it looked that he might be unemployed by the end of 2009. So far, his job is intact. Knock wood. But at the time, there was much discussion that I should consider “getting a real job.” Never mind that I already work hard at writing, teach some yoga classes, and am primary caregiver for my mom (who, thankfully, is fairly self-sufficient most days). Never mind that I’m area rep for Pennwriters.

I don’t have time for a “real job.”

My solution?

I am now an Independent Sales Representative for Avon. As in Avon Lady.

I love it! For much of my life, I’ve been something of a Tom Boy. Now I get to play with jewelry and makeup and lotions and perfumes. Suddenly, I’m a Girly Girl.

This wasn’t exactly what my husband had in mind. Starting your own business does not result in reeling in copious amounts of cash. I think I’m doing pretty well because I’m not spending more than I’m making. Even with my new collection of cute Girly Girl earrings! But since his job doesn’t APPEAR to be in immediate jeopardy at the moment, he’s ceased the “real job” rumblings. For the moment.

So I’m now juggling THREE jobs. Plus the Pennwriters Area Rep gig.

What, then, incensed me to agree to take on the presidency of the Mary Roberts Rinehart Chapter of Sisters in Crime??? Okay. That one’s easy. No one else would take it.

I’m considering changing my name to Ado Annie. Remember her? From the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Oklahoma? “I’m just a girl who cain’t say no…”

Which brings me back to the time management thing. I figure if I can find a way to balance my writing, my Avon business, my yoga students, my Pennwriters duties, AND my Sisters in Crime presidential duties, I should rank as a time management expert. I could write the book.

If I could find the time.

And now, for your musical enjoyment:

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Random Thoughts & Thanks

By Paula Matter

Just when I was appreciating the fact that I don't have to blog until April, having Kelli Stanley here yesterday prompted this post.

I haven't met Kelli yet, but I'm sure looking forward to it when it happens. I friended her through Facebook probably because she's the friend of a friend of friend. Or some such. I really don't remember.

Thing is it wasn't until after friending her that I learned what a very cool, delightful person she is. I joined her Facebook fan page mainly because she had NOT invited me to do so. It really ticks me off when I get those e-mails. I mean, how --

No. Keep this post positive.

I got to thinking this morning how incredibly wonderful and supportive the mystery community is. Yeah, I'm sure sci-fi and romance and etc. are great, but I don't belong there, so...

This is a shout-out to all of the people who have helped me with my writing in one way or another the past several months. Hell, some of them have been helping me for MUCH longer than that. You know who you are.

In no particular order, I'd like to publicly thank the following folks. And, please, dear Lord, don't let me leave someone out. It'll be easy to do, so I apologize now. I'm sure more names will come to me as soon as I hit send. I'll try to update during the day. Key word being "try."

Susan Meier
Annette Dashofy
Nancy Martin
Hallie Ephron
Jan Brogan
S.J. Rozan
Donnell Bell
Lucienne Diver
Janet Reid (who still owes me $20 for the Patrick Lee shout-out last Saturday)
Kristen Weber
Linda Landrigan
Keith Kahla
Roberta Isleib

Might as well stop at lucky 13. I always was a rebel.

Now, back to work. All of us. Especially me. With all of those people behind me, I'd better not slack off. Some of them know where I live...

Monday, January 25, 2010

She Works Hard For The Money

Working Stiffs welcomes back our good friend Kelli Stanley.

She Works Hard For The Money

by Kelli Stanley

Hi, everybody! It’s wonderful to be back among my Working Stiffs buddies, stretching my legs in front of the electric fireplace in Annette’s RV. ;) Ha! I loved that post … I remember when camping meant camping, and don’t talk to me unless you’re willing to compare mosquito bites. ;)

Seriously, thank you all so much for having me over! Blog tours are not only fun visitin’ time, but one of the few occasions when authors get to pretend we’re famous and making the rounds of talk shows to talk about our next vehicle. ;) In my case, of course, it’s CITY OF DRAGONS—my second novel, first in a new series, and Bente’s god-child, because she let me borrow her (real) name for a character--Bente Gallagher, an old friend of Miranda Corbie, my PI protagonist. Cool, huh? But I owe the inspiration for the character completely to Jennie. When I heard her real name, I *knew* my Bente—she sprang fully formed.

In my case, I’m following up a blog tour at some of my favorite hang-outs with a face-to-face tour on the West Coast. And I’m trying to figure out what sections of the book to read. I confess that I like reading—I was a Drama major, after all—but CoD has a lot of dialog. What do you guys think? Do you like dialog scenes read aloud or straight prose? Any preferences? Any dislikes?

I’m kind of nervous, as this is my first chance to actually see my book in a lot of stores-- NOX was distribution-challenged. So I’ll be hoofing it like a chorus girl, up and down the coast, talking about 1940 San Francisco and noir and Chinatown and … oh, yeah. Probably the point I’ll get questioned on the most: Miranda was an escort before she earned her PI license.

“Escort” means a lot of things to a lot of people. Most people assume it means she was a prostitute. Some have labeled her a call-girl. I’ve already been asked “Did she or didn’t she?” and the book’s not out until February 2nd …

The truth is that Miranda is an extraordinarily complex woman. I honestly don’t feel like she’s a creation at all—more like a writing partner. She’s someone I know well, but even I don’t know all the answers.

By the time CITY OF DRAGONS opens in February, 1940, she’s already been through:

A rough childhood. The Jazz Age and bootleg gin and women’s emancipation. The Great Depression. Teaching English to dirt poor dirt farmers. Falling deeply, deeply, deeply in love and volunteering as a nurse in the Spanish Civil War. Losing her lover—and herself.

Then there’s the escort experience, working for Burnett, a sleazy detective and her old boss … and finally, the Miranda of CITY OF DRAGONS.

You only get bits and pieces of her backstory, and that’s as it should be. I’m hoping to write about Miranda for a long, long time, and I’ve got some prequels in mind (one is already going to be published—a short story called “Children’s Day”, set almost a year earlier than CITY OF DRAGONS. It’s proud to be included in the next ITW anthology, FIRST THRILLS: High-Octane Stories from the Hottest Thriller Authors—releasing June 22 from Forge).

So what can I tell you about Miranda? She’s private. She means a lot to me. And I don’t violate her confidences. But I know this: that as a thirty-three year old woman in 1940, she, too, is a working stiff. And whatever she did, she worked damn hard for the money.

Thanks for reading, guys—and thanks again for having me on Working Stiffs!

CITY OF DRAGONS will be released from Thomas Dunne/Minotaur on February 2nd. You can order your copy here.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Lethargic Writer And Brain Whips

by Pat Gulley

I find myself after the holidays in a mood to do just about a total nothing. Can’t get motivated for anything, much less writing. The tree is down, but because I loan out so many decorations, it with the 14 other smaller trees, is sitting in the living room waiting for everything to be packed up properly. Space issues. Valentine’s day d├ęcor sitting and waiting half-up, half waiting to go up. All the outdoor lights waiting to be taken down. Well they can just wait; they waited last Christmas so long it was time to put them up again before I got around to it. And besides, the lights around the gazebo were very colorful last summer. And the lights out front are snowflakes that look like stars and go on when I put the porch light on, so they look nice all year long.

With that kind of logic driving me, is it any wonder that I can put off writing things with all sorts of excuses and justifications? Heck, yes. Does this blog suggest I’m not only groping, but grasping desperately? Remember Tom Hanks in You’ve Got Mail when he wanted to send a message to Meg Ryan after she thought he stood her up in the restaurant? Eh, eh, eh, eh, delete, delete, delete.

I have to say, when I get in one of these moods I do feel that everything I write sound useless and worthless. But at the same time, one thing I’ve learned is that you write it anyway. Drivel though it may be, I have found that rewriting is a smidge easier than blank page staring. Just having something there to re-work is easier than that horrific field of white that can bring you to a state of anxiety that leaves you feeling someone dropped you in Antarctica and told the penguins you were not to be disturbed. Horrors!

Right now I see black print on the screen and that gives me courage to keep writing and feeling anything that pours out is okay as long as something is there to rewrite later…..or tomorrow…..or next week, next month, well sometime in the future before the deadline for my blog date is up.

So the mood is dissipating. I’ve actually accomplished something In Writing. I feel a little better and a bit of creativity coming on and I should get over to my WIP and put it to use. Putting it use here, I’m sure, would be your preference, but you know how that works.

Maybe all those themed blogs and flash story competitions are a good idea.

What kinds of brain whipping do you practice to get yourself going?

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Welcome Guest Toni L.P. Kelner

Working Stiff Paula Matter is pleased to give up her usual spot to welcome the delightfully funny Toni L.P. Kelner........

Writing is funny. No matter how much I think I’m keeping myself out of my novels, I manage to sneak in.

Take my latest, Who Killed the Pinup Queen? If you’d seen me while I was writing it and asked, “What are you working on?,” I could have given you a bunch of answers.

1) * A murder mystery.

2) * The second in my series about Tilda Harper, a freelance entertainment reporter who specializes in “Where are they now?” stories.

3) * A homage to TV cowboys.

4) * A celebration of fifties pin-up queens.

I would not have said, “It’s about freelancing versus keeping a steady job.” But that’s partly what it turned out to be.

Fifteen years ago, I left my day job. I’d been a technical writer for ten years, and I liked the work. During most of that time, I’d also been writing, and in 1993, Down Home Murder, my first novel, came out. Dead Ringer followed in February 1994, and I went right to work on Trouble Looking for a Place to Happen. Speaking of trouble, in late 1994 I found out I was expecting my first child.

I’d been able to juggle a day job and writing, more or less, but I had a feeling that adding a child to the mix would change things. So I quit the day job to write fulltime. It was not an easy transition. To go from a steady job to working as a freelancer in an uncertain field was a blow to my ego. Even though my husband’s income was enough, I felt guilty about letting him support me, particularly during the inevitable slow periods and dry spells. I often wondered if I was nuts for trading a salary with benefits for a career filled with uncertainty.

Eventually, I did come to terms with the change, and these days, I can’t imagine going back to the working world. I like my freedom and the flexibility, and feel very lucky indeed to be able to work in my pajamas. I’m still a fulltime writer, after all.

But I guess a lot of those conflicted emotions were still floating around in my brain. Without my really planning it, I added a subplot to Pinup Queen about freelancer Tilda trying to decide whether or not to take a fulltime job with Entertain Me!, the most lucrative of her usual markets.

Don’t get me wrong. The main thrust of the book is still solving the murder of a former pinup queen with clues and red herrings and danger and all the elements that are supposed to be in a mystery, plus cowboys and Tilda hunting down old TV stars. It’s not all about her career choices.

But I guess those issues strike a chord with people. After my mother-in-law read Pinup Queen, her first comment was “I’m so glad Tilda did the right thing about that job.”

And you know what? Most days, I think I did the right thing, too.

We at Working Stiffs think so, too!

Toni L.P. Kelner multitasks. In mysteries, Who Killed the Pinup Queen?, the second in her "Where are they now?" series, has just hit the shelves. In urban fantasy, she edits anthologies with Charlaine Harris. Death's Excellent Vacation is due out in August. In short stories, she has her first noir story coming out in March in Carolyn Haine's anthology Delta Blues. Kelner has won the Agatha Award and a Romantic Times Career Achievement Award, and has been nominated for two other Agathas, four Anthonys, and two Macavitys. She lives north of Boston with author/husband Stephen Kelner, two daughters, and two guinea pigs.


One lucky commenter will win his or her choice of one of Toni's books! Winner will be picked at random and will get to choose between the first of  the "Where are they now?" series: CURSE OF THE KISSING COUSINS  or Toni's newest, WHO KILLED THE PINUP QUEEN?

      Winner will be announced tomorrow morning!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Roughing It

By Annette Dashofy

Check out this photo.

Is this someplace you could live in? Be comfortable in?


Here’s the catch. It’s a camper!

My hubby and I, suffering from cabin fever and longing for spring and a return to our little camper in Confluence, spent Sunday afternoon at the Pittsburgh RV Show. No, we’re not shopping. Drooling? A little. But not shopping.

I flat out refuse to own a camper that is nicer/bigger/more expensive than my house!

Here are some interior shots of some of the RVs we toured.

I should have taken some exterior shots, too. The outsides of some of these beasts are every bit as extravagant as the inside.

I used to poke fun at the folks in the campgrounds in their fancy RVs who went inside after dark and never came out. They watched TV. If I wanted to watch television, I’d stay home.

Someone must have overheard, because a great many of the campers at the show had TVs built into the OUTSIDE of the camper. Pull out your folding chairs and watch this week’s episode of Survivor. How about cooking in the great outdoors? No problem. Lift a compartment door in the exterior shell of the RV and find a marble counter, a sink (with a fancier faucet than I have in my home kitchen!), a gas stove, a refrigerator, AND a microwave!

Oh, don’t panic. There’s a fully equipped kitchen inside as well.

But my absolute favorite is this:

That's an electric  fireplace on the right side. In a camper.

Just in case you miss having a campfire. Maybe they need to set one of those into the outside wall of the RV, too.

Next year’s model.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Cutting Room Floor

By Martha Reed

There were two hurdles in my latest draft that I was dreading from the onset – an emotional scene between two of my characters (tackling emotion isn’t my strong suit) and a pivotal vehicular accident scene involving precise calculations and quite a bit of math. Math has always been a problem for me – I’m much better using words – and since I’m lazy and most people are kind I can usually con somebody into doing the math for me and just giving me the end result.

But this time it was different and I wanted to do the math for myself. So, I gathered all the pieces of the algebraic formula I imagined I would need (mass, distance, trajectory, speed) and sat down to gut it out. Imagine my surprise when the math evaporated into two tiny paragraphs and the rest of the story continued merrily along as exposition.

It pains me now that all that perfectly good math ended up on the cutting room floor.

Over the weekend I also went back through my notes to make sure my story arc was lining up properly – I’m only forty pages from the finish and I wanted to tie up all the loose ends – and as I was reading through my very early manuscript pages I realized just how far off the mark I had been when I started out and how much the story has mutated to get to the finish line. I have perfectly good whole chapters that I know I slaved over that are now sitting in my deleted bin or in my discard pile. I still find myself hanging on to these pages, though, even though they are mutant creatures because I put so much work into them I can’t simply throw them away. Right now my plan is to keep these pages and chapters in a separate manuscript box in the hope that they may someday shed light on my creative process for some distant future archivist.

Of course, the oddest thing about writing a truly good story is that if you do the job well and really tell the tale so that it comes to life, the last thing that gets shed is the author. Think I’m kidding? Okay, name the author of Treasure Island or The Adventures of Baron Munchasen. See what I mean?

Monday, January 18, 2010


by Gina Sestak

We working stiffs have been having email discussions about ways in which to modify our posts.  Suggestions include contests, flash fiction competitions, theme-of-the-month.  I'm not going to ask what anybody thinks about those ideas, though.  Somebody already tried that.  Today I'm just going to free-form post like I always do, so fasten your seatbelts - here we go.

For the first few years of my participation in Working Stiffs, I wrote about the many jobs I've held.  I don't think I've ever properly introduced myself, though.  For the record, my name is Regina Marie Germaine Sestak.   This is what I look like:

I was born in Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania, in a hospital that no longer exists.  My family lived in Detroit for awhile when I was a baby, then we moved back to Pittsburgh where I've stayed ever since.  I expect to turn 60 in a few weeks, so it won't come as any surprise that the grade school and high school I attended are out of existence, too.  I think that's one of the most confusing things about getting older.  The major institutions of your life just up and disappear.

Working stiffs is a writers blog; you've probably noticed that a lot of contributors focus on writing-related topics.  I tend to write free-form here on the theory that there's more to writing than grammar and story structure.   Life experience informs the imagination.  So I write about experiences that I feel have shaped my writing.  Of course, as you regular readers know, I am a highly unsuccessful fiction writer, poet and screenwriter.  No success to speak of, or should that be 'of which to speak'?

So where is this going?  I haven't a clue.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Ask The Reader

by Joyce

I've been emailing back and forth with the other Working Stiffs today trying to come up with some ideas to keep the blog "fresh." Some of us have been doing this blogging thing for over three years and sometimes it's not easy to come up with topics that haven't been done to death.

Pat's flash fiction bit and poll the other day were a lot of fun, and I was thinking maybe we need more of something like that. We've started brainstorming an idea for the month of February that looks promising if we can figure out what the heck we're doing.

I'm going to take this opportunity to ask some questions of our readers.

  • What kinds of posts would you like to see on Working Stiffs?
  • Are there any particular topics you'd like to see covered? 
  • Would you like us to pick a theme or a central question each week or each month and have the posts relate to it?
  • Are there any authors you'd like to see as guest bloggers?
  • Would any of you readers like to guest blog?
That's all I can think of right now. If you come up with anything else, please put it in your comments. Remember, this blog is for you--the readers, so please chime in and tell us what you think. Even if you've never commented before, we want to hear from you!

The Quest for Perfection

Well, gang, I hate to break this string of posts about POV, but I can’t think of a thing to add to the discussion.

I’m currently struggling with the idea of perfection. In other words, I’m revising.

First chapters, especially opening paragraphs, are a huge source of grief for me. I know all too well their importance. Yet I also know better than to try to polish chapter one to a spit shine at the expense of never writing the rest of the novel. So I wrote a crappy first draft of a crappy first chapter and then went on about the business of completing the book. I knew I would have to come back and face those opening lines at some point. But I tried hard to ignore them.

Now here I am. The first draft is done. I’ve completed a hard copy read of the entire manuscript. And I’m staring at PAGE ONE, CHAPTER ONE again.

I have rewritten the opening several times. I like the new versions…briefly. By the next day, however, they’ve lost their charm.

I really want to brush it aside and go on to revise Chapter Two. Or three. Or twenty. Anything but Chapter ONE.

But I NEED to grit my teeth and figure out how to make this blasted first chapter the best it can be. Unfortunately, all I see are all the things about it that are wrong. Maybe I’ve read too many books on writing great openings. That long list of “don’ts” is daunting.

I have written, rewritten, copied, pasted, slashed, and burned. And I’ve thrown in the towel. At least for the moment. I have a few tweaks I want to make, but then I’m moving on to the second chapter!

Or not.

Does the quest for perfection drive you as nuts as it does me???

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

A Different Kind of Point of View -- You Can Play, too

By Pat Remick

Speaking of Point of View... as we have been for the past few days, my husband and I recently entered the same monthly “Flash Fiction” contest sponsored by the New England Chapter of Mystery Writers of America and one of us won (and turned out to be a bad sport about it, too, I might add).

The contest rules are simple: Generate the opening of a story with a given sentence, but write no more than 100 words. Our sentence was: “I was glad to find that the ground hadn't frozen yet.” We took those 11 words and each used our individual "point of view" to generate a story. As you'll see in a moment, the results were very different.

And, in what I hope will be a fun experiment, you can weigh in on which one you prefer (the loser is hoping to win the popular vote). My goal in all this is to try to remind the writers and readers among us just how subjective the process of creating - and evaluating -- fiction can be.

I believe it is so important to keep this in mind, especially when we are trying to find agents, publishers and readers. Just because one person doesn't love our writing, doesn't mean another won't -- as long as we don't give up on ourselves. We all need to maintain a positive "point of view."
Now for the Flash Fiction smackdown. I've listed the entries in random order -- well, as random as you can get with 2 entries -- so have a read and decide which one YOU like best.
I was glad to find that the ground hadn’t frozen yet. Mother Nature loved me. Last night at the camp, Harold had humiliated me. “A pistol on the partners hunting trip? Idiot!” This morning in the woods, I’d emptied it into his body. Now a shallow grave, dead leaves across the top, maybe a few branches. Tonight’s snowfall would cover everything. One fewer partner. A growl on the left broke my concentration. A scrawny wolf appeared from the brush, then another straight in front of me, then another to the right, and one behind. Maybe Mother Nature loved Harold more.

I was glad to find that the ground hadn’t frozen yet. It makes it so much easier to clean up the blood. The sight of crimson tentacles spreading through the fresh, white snow would set the wrong tone for the New Year anyway. While most people have traditions like making resolutions they’ll never keep, eating black-eyed peas or buying a new broom, I like to start mine with a clean slate. Unfortunately, that means getting rid of the old by Dec. 31. Good thing the fireworks and popping champagne corks make it hard to hear my Glock do its work.
Now go back up to the box at the top right part of the page and vote for the one you prefer. (It's anonymous so no one will know what you think -- but I'd appreciate it if you'd pick mine.) Voting closes at midnight. UPDATE--VOTING NOW CLOSED. Or, if you'd like, go to the comment section and share your 100 words that begin with "I was glad to find that the ground hadn't frozen yet."

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Point Of View Redux


I had a whole different topic in mind for today’s blog, but Jennie’s Friday subject intrigued me.  You see, I don’t think writers just starting out even think about point of view.  I know I didn’t.  Good writers make it so seamless that readers don’t even realize it is a device used in writing.

When we read a well-written piece, we instantly know the narrator.  We should know whose mind we’re in.  A writer can really jar a reader right out of a story by inadvertently switching POV in the middle of a scene. 

On Friday, some of you discussed how you like to write and I found it interesting how different we are.  As an example, Jennie mentioned that she automatically writes 1st person.  I, on the other hand, automatically start writing in 3rd.  Several of you mentioned that switching from 1st to 3rd in the same piece could interesting and I mentioned I thought it was a bit of a cheat.  So, while there are many ways to attack it, I thought I’d explore how change in POV can affect structure.

My work in progress is a Suspense.  Because I automatically think in 3rd person, my first chapter starts on a serene morning with a highway worker mowing the sides of a lonely stretch of road.  She jockeys the mower to work around one of those roadside memorials that people erect to remember the spot on a highway where someone they loved died, only to uncover a shallow grave with the remains of a young woman in it.  If I do it well, it should give the reader the feeling of horror and surprise one would experience stumbling on something unexpected and horrific, while drawing in the reader with a dead body that sets the tone of the story.   My outline has me alternating between my detective protagonist and the killer.  At this point I don’t want to give away too much, sorry.

However, if I opted for 1st person, the entire plan would have to change.  I can’t have the opening scene with a highway worker unless the worker was the protagonist.  I would have to have my protagonist responding to a call, where she finds out how the body was uncovered by the mower.  I would also have to get rid of all those scenes that I plan where the Antagonist kidnaps and kills, leaving the trail.  I’d have to concentrate on the protagonist uncovering clues as she goes.

Of course when a writer uses 1st, you put yourself in the head of the narrator and write what comes to mind.  For me it’s very natural and very personal.  Using the word “I” makes it personal.  It takes a bit more work using 3rd to get the thoughts of the POV character out there.  Because you’re using He and She, it doesn’t seem as personal, not as close.  But, 3rd does allow a lot more flexibility.  Which is why I call switching in the same book a bit of a cheat.  Switching allows the author to write close and personal from the mind of the protagonist, but gives the flexibility of letting the reader know something the protagonist doesn’t.  I think it’s a lazier way of writing.  You don’t have to work as hard writing your way around 1st but the reader can get to know what is in your protagonist’s mind a lot easier.

I have to admit that the 1st/3rd mixes I’ve read, didn’t hit me in a good way.  POV is something to definitely give some thought to well in advance of sitting down and beginning a story.  I know we’ve discussed this a bit, but I’d like to hear any additional thoughts you have on the subject.

Jennie's can o worms.

Friday, January 08, 2010

A Different Perspective

by Jennie Bentley

I’m going to list a few of my favorite authors for you:

Jennifer Crusie
Julia Spencer-Fleming
Lois McMaster Bujold
Dorothy L. Sayers
JD Robb
Suzanne Brockmann
Terry Pratchett
JK Rowling
Tamora Pierce

(All of them are worth a read, if there are any you’re not familiar with.)

And here are a few more of my favorite authors:

Janet Evanovich
Donna Andrews
Nancy Martin
Tasha Alexander
Nancy Haddock
Lindsey Davis


Do you know the difference? Why I didn’t just put them together on the same list?

The top are authors who write in the third person. (He said, she said.) The bottom are authors who write in the first person. (I said.)

I’ve been giving a lot of thought to POV lately. So far, everything I’ve written (published and unpublished) has been in the first person. The Do-It-Yourself books are written from Avery’s point of view; A CUTTHROAT BUSINESS and sequels are written from Savannah’s point of view.

First person singular comes easily to me. I think and talk in first person singular. (Yeah, I know. So does everyone else.) My literary voice is also first person singular. New characters pop into my head and take over. I don’t see my books as movies: I see them through the eyes of the protagonist. When the protag looks in the mirror and describes herself, it's because that's the only way I can see her. All of which makes writing first person very easy.

Of course, there are drawbacks to the first person perspective. The protagonist is only aware of what he or she has seen with his/her own eyes, or what someone else has told him/her. If it happened elsewhere, when the protag wasn’t there, and nobody bothered to mention it, the MC won’t know about it. (MC = main character, not master criminal. I get confused on that sometimes.)

Because the first person perspective is limiting that way, it doesn’t work for every book. Or every genre. Romance, for instance, is usually written in the third person. With multiple points of view, to get hero’s and heroine’s take on the same events. Thrillers are rarely written from the first person perspective, and often have multiple points of view, as well. Ditto for romantic suspense, the romance/thriller hybrid. Fantasy and paranormal seem to lean toward third person, as does science fiction, although I’ll be the first to admit I haven’t read enough of either to be able to say categorically that it’s so. That’s my impression from what I have read, though.

Chick lit, women’s fiction, urban fantasy and YA are often written in the first person. Mysteries are about evenly divided, it seems, although there’s a noticeable distinction between funny, lighthearted mysteries and dark, serious ones. Police procedurals lean toward third (Julia Spencer-Fleming, Ngaio Marsh, Deborah Crombie) while sassy girl sleuths are usually first (Janet Evanovich, Nancy Martin, Donna Andrews). PI novels can go either way. Robert Crais’s Elvis Cole books and Lindsey Davis’s Falco books are written in the first person—and they’re funny. Kelli Stanley’s new book, CITY OF DRAGONS, on the other hand—you have to read this book; it’s fantastic!—is written in third, and it’s pretty dark.

You may wonder why I’m giving so much thought to this.

I’m currently between books. DIY-4 was handed in at the beginning of the week, and I don’t have to start DIY-5 until May. (Deadline is September.) That gives me four months to work on something else. Enough time to nail down a first draft. The problem is, I’m not sure what to write. And whether I shouldn’t break out of my comfort zone and try something new. A new genre, a new point of view.

So what about you? Do you prefer one POV over another? For reading? For writing? Do you confine yourself to one when you write, or do you use both? Some people write books in first and short stories in third; some people do the opposite. Some only write one way. Which are you?

And if you have an opinion on which I should be, I’ll be happy to take that under advisement, too.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Paula's Pet Project

We at Working Stiffs are happy to announce that Paula Matter will no longer be blogging. No, wait, we're happy to announce she's giving up her bi-weekly slots for the next few months and has invited several fine writers as guests. Some of these folks are new to publishing, some are well established, and some fall somewhere in between.

Let's start the New Year off by welcoming debut author Graham Brown to Working Stiffs!

Books and Years

By Graham Brown

So it’s a new year and that creates this fantastic vibe of a fresh start. Kind of like picking up a new book and looking at those first few pages.

So here we are in the first chapter of the year. I’m trying to get things off to a rousing start, fired up about new projects, everything from getting in shape, to painting the living room to getting the second book done. For me January will include the long awaited (at least by me) debut of my first novel, Black Rain. So that’s a good start.

But then what?

The next few months have to establish the story line – what direction will 2010 be heading? The plot thickens, new characters pop up, obstacles appear. I’m supposed to be publicizing Black Rain but I really have no idea what I’m doing or even what I’m supposed to be trying to do. And I’m also working on Book Two. And then there’s this little thing called taxes and this Uncle I’ve never met who keeps taking a third of my money.

So the pace quickens and I do my best, feeling that if I only had a personal assistant, an accountant and a chiropractor, I could really excel.

But instead I pop Ibuprofen like they’re going out of style and I do some kind of tax thing on line. No idea if I paid the correct amount or not, but signing the check was pretty painful so that’s gotta be close, right?

And quickly we’re into the middle of the year and instead of a pause, we hit that point of no return. Have to push on, no going back. You’re a writer man – so write. Agent calling: where is Book Three and the proposal for Book Four? There are deadlines looming. What have you been doing all this time?

So I hit the gym once, just so I can say the membership wasn’t a complete waste and I rush toward the finish, typing and scribbling and wondering how the hell a shoulder can hurt like this? And then, just when it looks like it won’t get done...

Somehow it does.

Book Two hits the shelves and the publisher is thrilled and we’re going to do a new deal. Now everyone’s happy; me, agent, editor – even that Uncle I keep telling you about.

Then a friend of mine comes over and says “Weren’t you going paint this room in January?”

And I stop and think for a moment: 2010 was a page turner. I hope and pray that 2011 is more of the same.

Graham Brown’s debut novel, Black Rain follows an expedition into the darkest reaches of the Amazon rainforest, where things go terribly wrong. Linwood Barclay, best-selling author of Fear the Worst, called it a “terrific read, smart and intelligent.” Steve Berry, best-selling author of The Paris Vendetta, said it “…sizzles with tension and twists.”

  Black Rain goes on sale January 26, 2010. 

Graham Brown was born in Chicago in 1969. He went to college in Arizona, earning a degree in Aeronautical Science and learning how to fly small planes.

He later attended Law School, where he spent many lectures pretending to listen while scribbling down pages of notes for what he hoped would be a great novel.

After working as an attorney for a couple of years, he decided to see if there were any good ideas in those notes. Apparently there were. Several years later Random House bought the rights to his first book, BLACK RAIN, in a multi book deal. Graham is currently working on the sequel.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

The Long Farewell

by Annette Dashofy

I’m so glad to be solidly mid-way through the first week of 2010. Life is gradually beginning to get back to normal. At least if you consider shoveling snow on a daily basis, “normal.”

The entire holiday thing goes on way too long if you ask me, which no one has. Christmas cards and ornaments go on sale in some stores right after the Fourth of July. Halloween decorations come down on November first and are replaced with Christmas lights.

And the day after Christmas, we begin to reminisce. We look back at the past year. And in this case, we look back at the past decade. I admit it. I rather enjoy these trips down memory lane.

At first.

On the Sunday before New Years, CBS Sunday Morning (one of my all time favorite TV shows) does a tribute to those who have passed during the year. I never miss it. I arm myself with a box of tissues and sniffle through the film clips and photographs.

But then there are the compilations that are rerun on news and pseudo-news programs. Over. And over. And over again. By the time New Year arrives, I am so thrilled to know I won’t have to watch any more of those blasted things.

But of course, they run them again on New Year’s Day.

Thankfully, I haven’t seen a retrospective in a couple of days now. No more re-hashing what a lousy year and decade it’s been. No more clips of Michael Jackson and Walter Cronkite.

(To be honest, I don’t know that I’d ever tire of clips of Walter. It just makes me weepy to know he’s gone and I’m really tired of being weepy).

So good-bye and good riddance to the long farewells. Bring on 2010 and a bunch of new news stories. Preferably a few good ones, thank you very much.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Survival of the Fittest

By Martha Reed

So there I was, sitting at my desk having survived the holidays reasonable intact (both mentally and physically), happy to be back in the groove and working away on finishing Chapter 25 and with my eye actually on finishing the whole damn book by March when I noticed that my fingers were stiff with cold.

Granted, it was an exceptionally chilly day here in Western Pennsylvania at 17 degrees and with a negative wind chill factor and I do live in an 125 year old house than can get a bit drafty but when I checked the radiator next to my knee I found it was stone cold. In Pittsburgh, in January, that is never a good thing.

So I suppressed my anxiety and called my favorite heating company and put my name on their list. That was 4 hours and approximately 16 degrees ago. It has gotten noticeably colder in my house and I’ve preemptively moved into my bedroom on the assumption that with the door closed my body heat will at least keep the temperature above freezing. I tried a cup of hot tea about an hour ago but the tea got cold even before I finished it so I cast around for some alternative solutions and remembered my heating pad (which runs on electricity). I am now very comfortably toasting my … toes while waiting for the repairman to show up.

I will say the temperature is keeping me on track with finishing my weekend writerly chores. I’ve answered every possible email, revised a proposed schedule for a Writers Retreat in March and completed this blog two day ahead of schedule not to mention writing an epic bit of Chapter 25 before putting it away for the day.

It’s amazing what a little enforced seclusion can do!

Monday, January 04, 2010


by Gina Sestak

Good Morning, Everyone, and Happy New Year.

In this, my first post of 2010, I had considered writing about resolutions, but I think Wil beat me to it. That's okay. I'm not that fond of resolutions anyhow. As I grow older, I find I'm making the same resolutions year after year, and they all boil down to one thing: Stop being the way I am and start being the way I'm not. This year, I think I'm just going to accept myself the way I am - warts and all.

Resolutions aside, I come to the real issue of this year, one that is sure to impact us all for decades to come. No, not the wars or health care or table games in Pennsylvania, although those things are important. What I mean to focus on is pronunciation: When you look at the number in the title of this post, do you say two thousand ten or twenty ten?

Both options have support. We've been saying two thousand ever since the year 2000, and before that when we spoke of 2001: A Space Odyssey. We could have said twenty oh one, but we didn't. On the other hand, I never heard any one call years in the past century by their longer namss. We always said nineteen twenty or nineteen ninety nine.

So what is it? What's your preference for the New Year?