Sunday, August 31, 2008

Climbing Mount Everest

Tomorrow's a big day; a scary day; a wonderful day. Tomorrow is the day I begin writing my third novel, and it's such a huge project staring me in the face that I'm terrified.

It's what I imagine it would be like to know you're scheduled to start climbing Mount Everest the next day, but for now you're sitting at your base camp staring up at this huge rock towering over you and wondering how you will ever manage to accomplish your goal. Minus the physical exertion, of course. And the cold. I hate being cold.

But you get the point, right? Tomorrow I begin another 100,000-word adventure and I have only the vaguest notion of how it will turn out. Oh, I know I can do it; after all, I've written two novels before, so it's not as unsettling as the feeling I had before I started the first one.

That was truly an unknown. Prior to two years ago, the longest thing I had ever written was about fifteen pages in length, and that was a research paper I churned out in college, which was, well, let's put it this way: the idea that anyone could have their own computer to write on - in their house! - was simply ludicrous. I banged that bad boy out on my portable typewriter, that's how long ago it was.

So anyway, thanks to my recent history I know I can write this book that I will be starting tomorrow. I've even written a full outline, which by the day after tomorrow will undoubtedly be forgotten as I go off in thus far unforeseen directions. But it's still hard to get started; the task seems overwhelming until you have at least put a little bit down on paper that you can look at and say, "Ah, I'm partway done!"

I've discovered that writing a novel-length manuscript is like tobogganing down a hill in the winter - It takes a really good, strong push to get started, but once you've established a little momentum, you get going faster and faster until it becomes impossible to stop, unless of course you hit a tree. Hopefully I won't hit a tree, but who really knows?

Okay, I'm all done with the outdoor metaphors - the Mount Everest climbing, tobogganing stuff; at least for now. It's time to start thinking of my first sentence. I know, "It was a dark and stormy night." There, I feel better already - I'm partway done!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

A Blank Canvas

No, I'm not talking about my brain, although some people would argue that I could be. I found out tonight that one of my short stories, "Regrets, I've Had a Few," has been selected to appear in the premiere issue of TREI Literary Magazine, a Webzine debuting on September 1!

This story tells the tale of a man who has lost just about everything that made his life worth living - job, family, self-respect - thanks to a terrible tragedy that occurred years ago. His only solace now comes from what he calls "Mining for miseries," a routine where he buys drinks for strangers he meets in a local tavern and compares tales of woe. Eventually, he meets a stranger who tells a story that may just change the course of his life...

I'm really partial to "Regrets, I've Had a Few," because it reminds us just how close we all are to the edge of darkness, no matter how successful we may be, or how successful we think we are. We can be going along just fine in our insulated little worlds, and all of a sudden everything we have is taken away and all that we think we know about the world, all of our notions about life and fate and fairness, are turned upside down.

I am excited about my inclusion in TREI because I have no idea what the magazine is going to be like, nor do I have any clue what the other short stories are going to be about. I expect some suspense/horror/dark themes; all the stuff, in other words, that makes life interesting and keeps us on our toes when we get a little too comfortable.

Anyway, many thanks to C.L. Freire, Editor-In-Chief of the new magazine, as well as Editor M.R. Green for considering my work. Here's to a long and successful run for TREI Literary!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Front Page News

This whole big writing adventure began about two and a half years ago, in February, 2006, when I decided to start my own blog at and see if anyone in the world might be interested in what I had to say. I called it "Half-Baked Ravings" and was pleasantly surprised when I discovered that, yes, people were in fact interested in my somewhat off-kilter take on the various happenings in the world of sports.

While calling into question the judgement of these people, this discovery fueled my writing jones and by October of 2006 I had begun writing fiction as well as my sports blog, all of which led, in kind of a meandering, roundabout way, to where I am now - the author of two as-yet unpublished manuscripts and many short stories, hustling and searching for an agent to represent me.

I mention all of this as background for my exciting news - I made the home page at! I wrote a blog at Foxsports on Tuesday night, August 19, titled "Top Ten Most Beautiful Things in Sports," which was featured Wednesday at the Fox Funhouse page and which was picked up by MSN Wednesday night and made into a photo essay which they ran on their front page!

This exposure earned me nearly six thousand hits on my Foxsports blog Wednesday (5,802 to be exact). This number is by no means a record for me - I wrote a piece last November in which I poked fun at Terrell Owens of the Dallas Cowboys, and set my personal record with that one - over 13,000 views in one day.

Nevertheless, six thousand hits on my blog in one day is pretty cool, even though guys like Lee Child and Lawrence Block probably get that many on their websites every day before they're done drinking their morning coffee. Of course, it doesn't get me any closer to snagging an agent or a publishing deal for either of my books, but still, it is extremely gratifying to know that the people at MSN found my writing good enough to use to try to draw people into their site.

It makes me wonder how many hits my piece got when featured at MSN for several hours last night. I have no way of knowing, of course, but it had to be in the hundreds of thousands, based on the number of comments it drew and the fact that I looked at it myself at least a hundred thousand times.

If you're curious as to what the ten most beautiful things in sports actually are, at least from my perspective, you can check out my Foxsports post here, minus the photos of course because I had nothing to do with those and the piece has now disappeared off

It was an incredible rush seeing my words featured so prominently, and comes as validation for me that, yes, all of this work might actually pay off at some point. I wonder how many agents read

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Query, Pitch, Repeat

When I decided, a little less than two years ago, that I had what it takes to be a writer - you know, an actual writer, selling my work, not just some guy who writes, which I've always been - I had absolutely no idea how much effort would be involved in just trying to get people to look what I've produced.

You can't just send a novel to a publisher or an agent and expect them to read it, and from their perspective, I understand that. The're busy enough just working to represent the clients they already have, and if they're looking for new writers to represent, they certainly don't have time to slog through 100,000 words from every dope with a keyboard who thinks he can write. From me, in other words.

On the other hand, it's kind of hard to get used to the idea of asking someone's permission to ask their permission, which is essentially what a query letter is. You introduce yourself, give a quick rundown of your project and a quick biographical sketch of yourself (I discovered early on it was a lot easier to accomplish this part when I had actually published a couple of things), and hope the agent/small publisher is impressed enough with your begging and pleading to ask to see either a few chapters of your work or maybe even the whole thing.

Of course, it's not all bad. If this process had been in place when I was a kid, it might have saved me a lot of awkwardness and more than a little embarrassment on more than one Friday night: "Hi, Pam, I'm Al. Is there any chance I could ask you out this weekend?"

"Hi, Al, no."

"Oh. Okay then."

Smooth and easy, not to mention good practice at accepting rejection, which comes in handy with this whole authorial thing I've taken up.

Something else I've discovered - It's not a novel or a manuscript I've written, it's a project. That word implies big things, earth-shattering things, quite possibly things I can't in any way, shape or form deliver, but "project" carries much more weight than "manuscript" and makes it much harder to resist. That's my theory, anyway, and I developed it when my first few agent rejections included reasons why they couldn't take on my "project." When in Rome, right?

But the original point of this post was that it's amazing how much writing it takes just to get anyone to look at your writing. And it's not the fun kind of writing, either. Not that I'm complaining, mind you. I'm sure the very next email or letter I send out will be the one that makes all the others worthwhile. I'm sure of that. Yes I am. Definitely.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Rocking Out

When I was fifteen years old and for the next several years thereafter, I had very little in common with my dad. Don't get me wrong, I never had any of those big knock-down, drag-out fights with him like a lot of teens seem to have with their parents, but still, beyond a mutual interest in the success of the Boston Red Sox, we seemed to have very little in common at that time of my life.

That later changed as I grew into adulthood, and my father ended up being probably the greatest influence in my life before he died, but you know how it is when you're in your mid-teens: your parents know nothing and you know everything.

I mention this because I went to a concert two nights ago with my own fifteen year old son and it was an experience I will treasure for the rest of my life. My son is very interested in music, and (lucky me!) he loves the music of the sixties, seventies and eighties; he's a classic rock aficionado all the way.

So anyway, we went to see Collective Soul, Blues Traveler, and Live at the Lowell Memorial Auditorium on Tuesday night and were treated to four and a half hours of outstanding rock and roll from three great bands; four if you include Hana Pestle, a young lady you may not have heard of yet but you will: she has a strong, beautiful voice.

Ms Pestle was onstage with just an acoustic guitar and a microphone when we walked into the building at 7:10. I don't know what time she started but she played until 7:30, when she gave way to Collective Soul. If you love music, do yourself a favor and check out her Myspace page, where you can sample some of her music and order her CD; you won't regret it.

Sorry for getting off track, but I was really impressed with Hana Pestle. My point, though, is that with my son at an age where it's not alway easy for him to see eye to eye with his parents and vice-versa, he and I were able to share something fun that we're both interested in. We had a great time and hopefully will be able to do something similar soon.

My own father had no use for rock music - he was a Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman guy all the way, and picturing him going to a rock show with me would be...well...inconceivable. It just would never have happened. I'm not sure how big of a deal it was to my son, it might very well have been nothing more to him than something to do on a Tuesday night. But for me, it was one of those times I will never forget.

Oh yeah, and one added bonus: My ears stopped ringing sometime this morning!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

A Killer Story in 3/4 Time

"The screen door slams; Mary's dress waves. Like a vision she dances across the porch as the radio plays."

What a great beginning to a short story, don't you think? In just those two sentences, the writer has introduced a character, established a mood, and made you wonder just what the heck is going on with Mary.

Well, if you're an old dude like me, or appreciate what has come to be known as classic rock but was always just rock and roll until I suddenly woke up one day and was old, you might recognize those two sentences as the beginning of Bruce Springsteen's "Thunder Road," one of all-time great rock and roll songs ever written, in my humble opinion. But it's more than the beginning of a great song, it's also the beginning of a great short story.

I've always thought there was a very close connection between music and the written word. A great song, no matter in what musical genre, tells a tale that draws the listener in and invests him or her in the outcome, just as a great story does the same thing. Obviously, the instrumentation plays a part in making or breaking a song too, but the lyrics form the portion of the song most people can relate to.

Talk about the ultimate short story! For an artist to be able to weave a cogent tale in four minutes that makes the listener care about the people involved and want to know the outcome is incredible. And, oh yeah, don't forget it's got to rhyme, too. And remember the chorus, you have to work that in there as well.

I've always suspected that people who love to read are also often the same people who love music, and vice-versa. I have no idea whether that is actually the case, except of course in my own experience where it is very much the case. But I'll bet that if a study was ever done - and for all I know maybe there has been a study conducted that I just don't know about - they would discover that voracious readers tend to love music, and people who love music tend to read a lot.

I'm not sure what that even means, if anything, other than if it's true, remember you heard it here first. Just something I've always wondered about.

And about Mary, the girl dancing on the porch in the beginning of "Thunder Road"? If you want to know how her story ends, you'll just have to listen to the song, so put that book down for a couple of minutes and crank up your iPod.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

"When it Rains it Pours" is Sometimes a Good Thing

You know the expression, "When it rains, it pours," right? It's not just a slogan for a salt company, but is meant to signify that when bad stuff starts happening, it's usually followed by more bad stuff, and so on and so forth.

It's kind of like the saying, "Sh#t rolls downhill," only a little less vulgar and more socially acceptable I suppose, since one is the slogan for a huge company and the other...well...isn't.

But apparently "When it rains, it pours" works for good stuff too, at least every once in a while. The very same day I found out another of my short stories was going to get into another anthology (Northern Haunts, just in case you didn't read my previous post - okay, that's a lie, I just like the way it sounds!), I was notified by Tony Burton, the editor of the fine Ezine, that my story, "Independence Day," featured in the July/August issue, had been voted "Readers Favorite" by subscribers.

Yeah, I know, I know, big deal, right? That and a buck will get me a quart of gas. But it is a big deal, at least to me. It took me a long time, a lot of writing, and a lot of heartache before I ever got anything published anywhere, and now it's like this mountain of good stuff is raining and pouring down on me.

Now I'll admit, it's not as good as hearing that an agent wants to represent me, or that one of my novels was picked up by a publisher, but still, it's pretty cool. The idea that the story I wrote was chosen as the pick of the litter in a pretty high-quality venue is very gratifying, especially since I don't know any of the subscribers who voted, so I didn't even have to bribe anybody.

If you have a couple of extra bucks, go to and subscribe for a year; find out what I'm talking about when I say it's a high-quality publication. You won't be sorry. Plus, that way you can vote for me next time for "Readers Favorite."

Monday, August 4, 2008

Frighteningly Good News!

Hot on the heels of the inclusion of my Depression-era suspense tale, "The Road to Olathe," in the crime and suspense anthology Ten for Ten from Wolfmont Press, comes more good news! Shroud Publishing has accepted my story, "Heart and Sole," for inclusion in their upcoming anthology of New England-based chillers which will be titled Northern Haunts!

According to editor Tim Deal, the book "is an indispensable guidebook for your journey through the shadowy New England underworld," containing "100 original tales of ghosts, creatures, madmen, and other horrifying mysteries." It will be available in both hardcover and paperback, with the hardcover edition selling for $34.95 and the paperback for $24.95.

Preorders are available and will save you five bucks on each edition, making the hadcover...let's see...four minus five, carry the three...$29.95, and the paperback version will preorder for $19.95.

My entry into this chill-fest, "Heart and Sole," tells the tale of a man who concocts the perfect plan to murder his wife, combining her love for distance running with a business trip for him to give himself an unshakeable alibi. As you might imagine, things don't go exactly as he expects...

The publication date for Northern Haunts has not been finalized yet, although I believe the book will be available relatively soon. If you are in need of an anthology filled with teacherous tales to terrify your friends and family, check out this link to the publisher's website to preorder, or you can go to my website,, where I have a convenient link to preorder also.

Another publishing credit! Woohoo!

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Research This

Just off the top of your head, do you have any idea how much arsenic it would take to murder another human being? How about gas explosions? Know how to rig a gas stove so that some poor slob's house goes up with him inside it?

If not, don't feel too badly; I'm guessing most people don't know the answers to those questions, either. I certainly don't. At least, I didn't, until I had reason to research them because I wanted to use them in a story.

The gas explosion thing, though, I scrapped, because it turns out that gas stove manufacturers have, for decades, been equipping their products with nearly foolproof valves that shut the gas off before a serious explosion can take place. Good for you, bad for me, at least in terms of writing about murder and mayhem.

The point is, most of the really good ways to kill and maim people are foreign to the majority of us, and thank God for that. It could get really messy if people went around solving their day to day disputes by poisoning or shooting or blowing each other up. But if you want to write about that stuff, you have to learn some things that, in many cases, you might be better off not knowing, and that's where research comes in.

Research is like the root canal of writing - if you need it, you really have to do it, even though it might not be very pleasant. So, inside the digital brains of my computer, the funny-looking wafer-things that I will never understand how they can hold so much information - or any information at all, for that matter - is all sorts of incriminating stuff that will look very bad for me if my house ever blows up or if something untoward happens to anyone I know.

For the novel I'm going to start soon, I am currently checking out Stinger missiles and how they are transported. Now I'm paranoid, because if a real shipment of Stinger missiles gets hijacked from a real truck, I'm afraid some enterprising FBI agent will stumble upon this blog and pin everything on me!

Fortunately for me, the number of people reading this blog numbers in the...well...several, so the odds are pretty slim that any FBI agent, enterprising or otherwise, is reading this, but you never can tell. I sure hope they guard that stuff better than they're going to in my book.