Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

What I’m Doing

Monday, February 18th, 2013

Unique new blog, “The Page 69 Test” in Campaign for the American Reader in which an excerpt from page 69 of a book–in this case, MY book, POISON–leads into a guest blog (by me) about why Morgan le Fay turns into a beyatch. Also check out LETTERS FROM VALENTINA,, a terrific blog from Britain.

What I’m Doing

Tuesday, February 12th, 2013

Right now there are THREE great blogs featuring POISON:
LovLivLifeReviews (
Star Shadow Blog Series Spotlight (
and MY BOOK, THE MOVIE (bit.lyXrJZ4V)
Check them out!
Also, on Valentine’s Day (Thursday, Feb. 14), eBooks of THE FOREVER KING and THE TEMPLE DOGS will be available for 99 cents from all major e-retailers. Not to toot my own horn, but these books are classics with a history of rave reviews. So if you’ve never read them, here’s your chance!

What I’m Doing

Friday, February 8th, 2013

There’s a great blog post about POISON on LivLovLifeReviews! Here’s a link:

Meanwhile, I’m working on SIX different books at the moment: One’s with my editor, who’s getting notes (i.e. things I’ve got to rewrite) to me on Monday; another with my agent, who’s trying to sell it; the third, a longstanding novel-in-progress that I keep trying to write between projects; a partial ms w/outline about a time-traveling boy in Hitler’s Germany that’s very hard to pin down, since time travel is impossibly tricky; a completed novel that must have something wrong with it, since none of my friends has been able to finish reading it; and POISON, which has just come out and needs publicity attention. Whew! I’m sort of hoping we get a big storm that knocks out the power so I can just write by candlelight.

FLOW, Part 4: Writing Badly

Saturday, February 2nd, 2013

This is the last entry in a four-part series about attaining FLOW–that state of effortless writing in which the right brain, seat of the creative impulse, takes center stage and relegates the critical-thinking left brain to the sidelines.

For some, FLOW comes naturally. These individuals write without filters or internal editors. They’ve never heard the “Mom” voice telling them they’ll never amount to anything. They’ve never imagined the thump of a “Reject” stamp on their foreheads. But these writers are rare and, in my experience, often so right-brained that they literally can’t see their own flaws and consequently never revise.

Revision is essential to producing salable novels, but revision ought to come after the first (or second, or twelfth) draft is completed. The writer who rewrites every paragraph before beginning the next is doomed. Why? Because the perfectionist who must achieve perfection right out of the box rarely finishes.

That is the point of FLOW: FInishing the novel. In earlier posts, I’ve covered a number of ways to achieve FLOW: By writing fast, writing every day, and working from an outline. But this last piece of advice, writing badly, is probably the most helpful. It’s also one of the most difficult tasks for intelligent people to take on.

Good writers don’t want to write badly, ever. And so we ponder each word, restructure every scene. The result is that our great novel remains unfinished and yellowing in a drawer. How much better to be one of those brainless spewers of words (who are all over the internet, boring us with their redundancies, fracturing spelling and grammar without a care) who nevertheless actually finish what they start!

Here’s an example– a random sentence from CLOUD ATLAS, David Mitchell’s work of genius: “I cooked up my first escape plan–one so simple it hardly warrants the name–alone. It needed will and a modicum of courage, but not brains.” This is the same paragraph, written “badly,” that is, in a way that will not impede my flow: “I figured out how to get out of there. It was a stupid plan, but something.”

The nuance, the cadence, and the narrator’s voice are all missing from my pedestrian offering. But it got onto the page in five seconds. Later, when I’ve changed into my left brain and am wearing my editor’s hat, I can refine it. For now, though, I move on.


Write badly when you’re stuck. When the way you or a character says something is important, don’t bother trying to get it right at first. Just write it the way a ten-year-old would, and fix it later. Put a star next to the section if you need to, but move on.

Write badly when the plot overwhelms you. How do you handle the big blackout scene where Professor Plum gets shot? By writing badly: “Everyone was in the room, having a good time. Nobody noticed Professor Plum. Then the lights went out. When they came back on, Professor Plum was lying in a pool of blood.” (Use of “everybody” and “nobody”, repetition of Professor Plum’s name, cliches… all of which constitute bad writing)So okay, it’s crude and uninspired and puerile…Bad!… but it’s on the page. It gets you through.

Write badly when you’re uninspired. If you’ve gone more than one day without writing, it’s probably going to be hard to pick up your threads of thought. That lack of continuity will feel like a lack of motivation. If this is the case, whatever you write will probably be dull anyway, so writing badly will at least get something on the page until your juices start flowing again.

A final word: Don’t let others see your work until it’s finished. Your friends (who–let’s get real–won’t ever tell you if the book is heinous) don’t count, and you shouldn’t need stroking so desperately, anyway. And if you’re silly enough to send a rough draft to an editor or agent, even a longstanding one (even if they ask for it!), then you’ll live to regret it. (I did!)

No one except you should know how badly you can write. But it’s your secret weapon that will get you to the end of your first draft faster than anything else. So use it wisely.

But use it.


Saturday, January 26th, 2013

Wrote a partial (five chapters and an outline) for a new YA titled “Queen of the Home School Prom,” a funny mystery-thriller-cum-Cinderella story. Also researching a historical novel about Japan between the two world wars, but it’s scary. Did you know that the principal mode of transportation in Tokyo in 1912 was WATER? Yes! There were canals everywhere, all of which have been filled in since. Still, it’s so intriguing that I might have to write it despite the daunting research hump.

FLOW, Part 3: Writing from an Outline

Thursday, October 11th, 2012

This is always a hard sell. When I lecture, this is the point at which people start looking at their hands, or get up and leave. I’ve never really figured out why. Maybe it’s the word “outline” itself, conjuring visions of roman numerals and the deadly dull outlines we were forced to write in eighth grade. Maybe it’s because a number of famous writers claim never to use them. Or perhaps the idea of working from anything but a totally right-brained perspective seems stuffy and stultifying to our artistic natures. Whatever the reason, beginning writers don’t like outlines. And that, I believe, is why most first novels take so long to write.

An outline is a map. Actually, it’s more than a map. It’s a GPS for the journey a novel takes. It helps the writer get from point A to point Z without making a lot of wrong turns. It is essentially a device of plot, which for some is difficult in itself, being a left-brained activity. If you have no plot, you may not need to use an outline, mainly because no publisher is going to buy your book. If you do have plot, an outline will show you the general shape of that plot. Does the action build, or is it one-note? Are there peaks and valleys, moments of humor and/or romance, or just nonstop action? (This, incidentally, may work in movies, but unrelieved action tends to be boring on the printed page) Does one event lead directly to another? In other words, does your plot make sense?

Writers who claim not to use outlines either write the same book again and again (which means their outlines are in their heads, carved in stone at the expense of their creativity), enjoy fiddling and rewriting endlessly, or write books that don’t hold up to much scrutiny. The example that springs most readily to mind is Anne Rice. The brilliance of her writing is compelling, but at the end of every book of hers that I read, I am left with the feeling that the novel could have been so much better had it been planned more carefully and edited judiciously (she famously refuses to be edited).

A novel is not entirely an example of free expression. Neither is a musical composition or a painting. There has to be an underpinning of WHAT IS POSSIBLE, even if you’re writing about unicorns. If your protagonist falls into quicksand and you have an Army SWAT team pull him out by helicopter, you have to come up with ways to make that possible. Is your hero part of the team? Is he someone so important that a bizarre rescue would be attempted? Just as you can’t–really, you must not–introduce a character and then never mention him again (the Rosencrantz & Gildenstern syndrome), you also should never introduce a plot element that remains unresolved. An outline will show you missteps before they occur.

Most people (usually inexperienced writers) who think they have a story really only have the BEGINNING of a story. An outline will show you where the holes in your story are. (They’re almost always in the middle). In a typical mystery, the set-up leads to a number of clues that build upon one another until the protagonist can deduce whodunit and how the setup was created. If all you have is the setup and the ending, you will have a hard row to hoe coming up with the intricate turns of plot essential to the mystery format. An outline will save you time and headaches.

If you’re going to write only one book in your life, you can fool around with it all you want. Take a year to write a chapter. Change the setting from the Old West to a dystopian future. Experiment with the age and sex of your protagonist. Write part of it as a slice of life, and another as a thriller. Go crazy. But if you plan to write for a living, you do have to think about finishing your work in a timely manner. As it is, most of us work for around one cent an hour; if your wage is lower than that, you might want to think about speeding up your output. An outline helps you do that. The time it takes to think out and write the outline is well worth it in terms of ultimate time saved.

An outline can be a lifeline if you get stuck. Nobody plans on getting Writer’s Block, but it happens to the most industrious of us: We get sick, we have some family emergency, our hearts get broken… occasionally we all get kiboshed by the fickle finger of fate, and when that happens, the last thing most of us want to concentrate on is plotting a novel. And it doesn’t have to be some big event that takes you out of writing mode. Sometimes the inspirational muse just flies away. With an outline, you at least know what to write next. Granted, you may not be able to write it brilliantly, but you can at least get it down (and fix it later). A lifeline. Truly.

Finally, here’s a tip to shorten your “start-up” time at your next writing session (which, incidentally, should rarely be longer than one day): Write a thumbnail sketch of the next scene you’re going to write before you end for the day. This is a sort of mini-outline within your major outline. It enables you to start writing the minute you sit down to write, without any “think” time.

This series is about FLOW and the secrets to achieving effortless writing, aka “inspiration”. I posit that inspiration occurs a lot more frequently when one’s writing habits are conducive to it, and the techniques in this series will help develop those techniques.

Next time: Write Fast, Write Badly (I mean it!)


Sunday, July 15th, 2012

This is Step One in what I suppose one might call a Metablog entry on FLOW, and how to achieve it.

FLOW, often mislabled “inspiration”, is when your writing is effortless, easy, and fun, even though what you’re doing requires tremendous focus and concentration. It’s writing without forcing yourself to write. Without stopping after every sentence.Without even thinking very much. FLOW is a gift. When it happens, you’re unstoppable. When it doesn’t happen, writing becomes a chore, or worse. Remember the guy in THE SHINING, whose entire novel consisted of the single sentence All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy? That dude could really have used an influx of FLOW.

The good news is that even though FLOW seems to be a miracle that materializes at the whim of the gods, it can be learned. With a little left-brained organization and routine, you can free your right brain to flow with creativity–at will–so that you won’t feel as if you’re inventing the wheel every time you sit down to write. Your productivity will increase radically, and the quality of your work will also improve. Not to mention that writing will become a lot more fun.

So let’s get started. the first step in achieving voluntary FLOW is to write every day. This is key, the most important thing you can do. It is, alas, also difficult, especially if you’re not accustomed to doing it. But believe me, a daily writing habit is worth cultivating. Think of it the way a musician thinks about practicing scales. They’re not exciting in themselves, but they’re what make it possible to produce great music.

Here’s how you do it:

1. Set aside a certain time every day for writing. Nothing is more guaranteed to fail than telling yourself that you’ll “do it later”. Do it when you say you will, and regard that time as sacred. My time is the first thing in the morning. Frankly, I do have all day to write but, as a morning person, I love the feeling of working before the rest of the world wakes up. You may prefer to work late at night, as Danielle Steele did when her (nine) children were small. Whenever it is, make it a time when you’re not likely to be interrupted. And if you are interrupted, you need to be able to ignore the interruption. Don’t answer the phone. Don’t go out for the mail or do the crossword in the newspaper or read your email or check out Facebook. Tell your kids to go away. If you have an office, put a sign on the door that reads MUST YOU? This is your time.

2.Set a time limit on your work. You don’t have to work all day. Your session doesn’t — and shouldn’t– be longer than you can fill with constant writing. That’s right, I said constant writing. Now, don’t freak out; stay with me here.  If you’re not used to writing every day, the first few sessions might feel like turning a massive wheel in desperate need of oil. Your brain will creak and cough and complain. That’s okay. It will get easier before long, I promise. I think 30 minutes is a good session for a beginner. You can do almost anything for 30 minutes. But make those 30 minutes count. Don’t stare at the computer screen trying to come up with the perfect opening sentence. That’s a huge waste of time. Later I’ll go into the value of writing badly, but for now, I’d like you to just take my word for it: Write something for those 30 minutes

3. Trust yourself. You may have difficulty focusing on your work for even this short time. This can be corrected by following an outline (which I’ll cover in the next entry), but for the time being, just write what’s on your mind. Put down the thoughts that come to you, even if they’re not what you’ve planned. This, I’ve found, is a weird but charming surprise that occurs in every novel I write. One day, something simply appears on the page that I haven’t intended at all. It’s usually a small thing– a late-entering character, or a humorous bit of business. When this happens to you, accept it. Let it happen. It’s a gift from your subconscious. Most of us are so self-critical that when the part of our minds that Stephen King calls “the guys in the furnace room” offer up some shining narrative nugget, we reject it automatically. Don’t. Go with it. Remember, if it doesn’t work, you can change it. Everything can be changed. And is, in the world of publishing. (Here’s an interesting aside: I believe that the biggest difference between a professional writer and an amateur is that the professional is willing to do a lot more rewriting.)

One word of caution about listening to the guys in the furnace room, though: Make sure they’re the ones you’re listening to. If what comes to you is a sudden desire to scrap everything you’ve written so far and start over, or to turn your historical romance into a sci-fi saga, what you’re probably hearing is not the guys in the furnace room. It’s the voice of fear making a desperate attempt to keep you from writing, the demon whose name is Procrastination.

Procrastination is not funny. It is not trivial or interesting or harmless. It is fear, and fear will kill you. It will destroy your writing and your dreams, and it happens all the time. Writer’s block is fear, pure and simple. FLOW is the opposite of block, and therefore the opposite of fear. People don’t usually think of writing as a courageous endeavor, but it is. If you have block, you know you’re afraid. And there’s no way around fear–any fear–except through it.

Experts say that it takes 28 days to break an old habit or form a new one, so here’s what I propose: For 30 minutes a day, every day for 28 days, let go of your fear. Allow the secret parts of your mind to find their way into the sunlight through your story. That is Step One to achieving FLOW. It is the key to freedom.



Next up: Writing and using an outline. (More important than you may think!)



Thursday, June 28th, 2012

I’ve been reading a book titled FLOW by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (obviously a snappy pen name) about “the psychology of optimal experience.” Huh? So they’re calling it “flow” now? Guess I’ve missed a lot since the days of my randy youth in the Paleozoic era.

No, seriously. I bought the book (for 50 cents at the library discard sale) because when I think of “flow” — henceforth written FLOW in this blog– I think of writing. Or beer kegs. Or maxi-pads. But mostly writing. You know that feeling of knowing exactly what you’re doing without really thinking at all? When all the words you’re looking for click into place a split-second before you write them down? When your story comes to life without a hitch, and all you need to do is get the words on paper as fast as you can?

Me neither. I mean yes, it does happen, but not nearly as often as I want it to. When it does happen, though . . . Ah, paradise. I guess that’s what Mr. 15-syllables means by “optimum experience” (although, flow it, the Paleozoic interpretation of flowing is still pretty appealing). Unfortunately, the author isn’t interested in FLOW as it occurs in writing so much as it does in rock climbing and surfing. Presumably he clurned out his book while hanging ten on the waves at Big Sur.

Even so, being a writer with zero interest in surfing, I began to think about  FLOW in terms of my profession and passion, and perhaps yours, in which case you probably have your own name for this phenomenon. Mine is “flying”. I call it that because when it happens, the moment of perfect inspiration when I’m writing feverishly without really thinking at all, when my left brain is shut off and words tumble out of my right hemisphere in a welter of creativity, it feels like absolute freedom. At those times I am the air. I am the sea. I am Writer, hear me roar . . . Well, you get the point. And when the moment passes and I finally take a breath, I find that four hours have gone by.

Yes! Yes! you say. You know what I’m talking about! The orgasm of the mind! The perfect wave, Mihaly! The thing is, however, that this moment, this blissful state in which FLOW overtakes us, is elusive. It comes and it goes. And I, for one, want to have more of it. I want to corral it, confine it, control it, perpetuate it. I want to roll around in it and rub my hands together like a silent movie villain, shouting, “Mine! All mine!”

Is that wrong? I ask guiltily. Isn’t that something like caging a wild creature and fitting it with a choke collar?

Surprisingly, no. At least I don’t think so, because I’ve found that the more I write, the more frequently FLOW occurs. There are damn few benefits of age — believe me, I know –but this is one of them. And because of this equation that I’ve discovered (frequency arrow FLOW equals SCORE!), I really do believe it’s possible to achieve FLOW at will — if not permanently, then at least consistently, and often.

At the risk of sounding like a Paleozoic pedant, I’ve analyzed the times that I’ve experienced FLOW in my work (as I’ve mentioned, this is happening with greater frequency these days, possibly because my brain is hurtling toward senility), and I’ve come up with six conditions that foster it. In a nutshell, here they are: 1)Write every day. 2) Write at the same time every day. 3) Use an outline. 4) At the end of a writing session, create a thumbnail description of the next scene you’re going to write. 5) Write fast. 6) Write badly.

Since no one likes a 200-page blog entry, I’ll spare you the details for the moment, but I will explore the above concepts in some depth in future installments. I know I’ve been spotty about posting, but I’ll try to be diligent about a weekly entry. Who knows? I might catch some FLOW and ride that wave to optimal experience. It can happen.



Keeping Your Nerve

Sunday, September 25th, 2011

A long time ago, a writer I respect told me that writers don’t lose their talent; they lose their nerve. I didn’ t really know what that meant at the time — I guessed it was something about being daring in one’s choice of topic. But now that a number of years have gone by and I’m working on my second career as a novelist — my first was as a thriller writer in partnership with Warren Murphy, and the second is as a writer of YA paranormal books– I think I finally understand.

Today a friend of mine called me to say she’d looked up my book LEGACY on Simon & Schuster’s website (It’s finally going to be released in December of this year– publishers take an age to move books these days) and there were two “readers’ reviews” about the book. Weird, but I guess S&S sent bound galleys to some designated readers. Anyway, my friend told me that the reviewers (known only by their first names, “Barbara” and “John”) gave me four stars out of five.

So of course I flipped out. Why didn’t I get FIVE stars? And then came the downward spiral: If it’s not a five-star book, then maybe it will vanish, and take me with it. Maybe I’m out of sync with what’s selling these days. Maybe S&S won’t want to give me a series. Maybe I’m just kidding myself, even though I’ve written 30 published novels, including three bestsellers and received lots of awards, not to mention rave reviews. Maybe I’m not tough enough to compete. Maybe I should have written something along the lines of The Hunger Games instead of a funny, multifaceted novel with a lot of subplots. Maybe, maybe, maybe . . .

That’s when I understood about writers losing their nerve. When you’re just starting out, you don’t know anything about the business of publishing, so all you do is write. Usually you write badly, so you keep writing until you get better. That’s actually the secret, although you don’t know that at the time. But anyway, you publish a book, a few books, you speak at a few writers’ conferences, you get some interviews in print, and suddenly you’re not just writing anymore. You’re PLANNING. You’re WORRYING. You’re TRYING. And then you start second guessing yourself. Should I be J.K.Rowling? Cassandra Clare? Suzanne Collins?

Then before you know it, you’ve forgotten who you are. And when that happens, you lose your nerve.

So okay, I get it. However many stars Barbara and John give me, I’m not tap dancing for them. Every book is a first novel, in a way. They’re all filled with everything the writer is. Laugh at me, and it hurts. But it doesn’t stop me. I lie naked on the table every time. I give Barbara and John and anyone else permission to look at me and snigger, puke, point, jeer, or walk away. And I keep writing.

Besides, four stars out of five ain’t bad.



What’s Wrong with Writers’ Groups

Monday, March 28th, 2011

I know lots of people who belong to writers’ groups and love them (Well, of course they love them… If they didn’t, they wouldn’t still belong to them). Only one of them, however, is a professional writer, so one can’t really read about how effective these groups are. The amateur writers I’ve spoken with about these groups tell me that they’re a great place to get feedback on one’s work. These groups are also a haven for young writers who either have no support for their writing dreams among their families and friends, or have many well-wishers on their side, but no one who knows anything about the writing craft. Writers’ groups also provide a certain structure, so that participants feel more of an urgency to write than they might if they were working in a vacuum.

But as someone who is accustomed to working in a vacuum, experiences adequate support for my work, and is acquainted with a number of people involved in the publishing field in one capacity or other, I never felt much of a draw toward these word klatches… and many drawbacks. For one — and I’m basing all my observations either on the experiences of people who belong to (and love) their groups, or on my own limited first-hand experiences, which I’ll get to later — these groups tend to become “clubs”, with an unchanging core membership and a suspicious eye toward newcomers. The problem with these groups is that writing tends to become secondary to talking. Sometimes the meetings turn into therapy sessions, with members discussing their personal problems. Sometimes the atmosphere is just so comfortable that the members might as well be having an extended lunch. Either way, the problem is keeping the writing at the forefront.

The other problem is productivity. Invariably, meetings will include two sorts of members: attention-seekers, who want the group to focus all its time on them, and those who never produce anything. The attention-seekers (who are generally attention-seekers in any milieu) might not even bring in new work to be analyzed, but will offer up old poetry, college essays… anything to command the attention of the group. The non-producers might be willing (or even eager) to criticize the work of others, but never expose themselves to scrutiny. The worse offender, of course, is the non-producer who takes up the group’s time anyway, by talking about anything that will bring attention to himself.

Maeve Binchy, in her book on writing, saw as a pitfall the possibility that members might be too polite to one another. That was certainly not my experience when I sat in on three sessions of a local writers’ group. I thought that a group of like-minded individuals would be a pleasant way to work my way through the book I’m writing, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. They were like vicious dogs! Talk about a rude awakening… In retrospect (now that I’m as far away from those people as I can get), I think that the group was insular and “closed”, despite its claims to be an “open” group, and that I was regarded as an interloper. That, or else I just happened onto a particularly vile bunch of individuals.

The one thing I came away with, however, was a solid sense of what “constructive criticism” ought to be. It is this: “If you do __, it will make your story better because it will_____.” If you can put your comments into this form, they will most likely be more useful than things like, “I don’t know, I just think it ought to be better.

Incidentally, the one professional I know who attends a writers’ group is Mary Higgins Clark, who has been a member of her group for several decades, since before she was published.She likes her group, and good for her. As for myself, I think I’d rather work out my problems alone.