My New Work in Progress

I guess that title is a little misleading. I mean, like a lot of writers, I have a lot of balls in the air. Seeing one project all the way through to the end before starting another seems almost quaint. For anyone keeping score at home, I currently have:

One novel I’m continuing to sub—I’ve had three full manuscript requests for this one, so I’m trying to stay optimistic that it just needs to find the right publisher.

A second novel that I’m getting ready to sub—query letter, summary, synopsis, etc. I’m hoping it’s ready to start sending off by the end of the month.

A third that is currently in limbo. I wrote a first draft that I feel *really* good about, and I think with some of the usual tweaks and rewrites could be something really special. I will probably tackle the second draft of that after…

A fourth project that is just a nugget of an idea right now. I’ve jotted notes and have a general outline in my head. I need to get it out on paper, mostly because I feel like I need the freedom of writing a first draft before I buckle down and start getting real with editing and rewriting.

None of that, however, is what this post is about. I have yet another work in progress, and it’s arguably the most important one of them all. Let me back up a few days.

I was in my garage, tidying up and rearranging boxes and whatnot to make some more room for things we need to store out there. Among the boxes of “stuff” we still haven’t unpacked since we moved last summer were four trunks. My dad insisted I take these four trunks with me when I moved out of the house years ago, and I have schlepped these trunks from address to address from California to Kansas, for the better part of two decades now.

I knew they held old things—I think my grandpa’s sheriff’s uniform is in one, photos and mementos, things like that—but I honestly couldn’t remember ever looking in them. I was hefting them around (and they are heavy) when I stacked the last one on top of the other three and said to myself, “What the hell is in these things, anyway?”

I opened the latches and lifted the lid.

Newspapers. Photos. Greeting cards. Yearbooks (my mom’s). And right on top, my baby book.

I opened the baby book half-interested and casually flipped through it and my jaw dropped. It was packed full of writing. It had some of my baby teeth taped in it, a $2 bill, silver dollars from my great-grandma, and entry upon entry upon entry. I went back to the front of the book and started to read. As I read my mom’s cursive writing about what I was like as an infant, I was completely overcome with emotion.

It was such a complex mix of emotions, none of which I had anticipated. So many of the family members my mom wrote about are no longer around, including her, which hurt to think about how much they would all love my son if they could see him. But on top of that, I felt some guilt.

Here I was, decades after it was written, seeing all the time my mom took to document these special moments from my childhood (I had to get a tetanus shot after stepping on a nail when I was around six, and came out of the hospital saying, “Whatever that nurse did sure hurt my butt.”), and I look at my 18 month old son and realize the time has flown by and I haven’t done anything like that for him.

Don’t get me wrong, I have hundred of photos, and video clips of some of his first laughter, one of his first walks across the living room on his own, etc. but…looking at that baby book, the stuff I was doing suddenly didn’t seem like enough.

And so, with that, I began yet another writing project: writing letters to my son, to look back on someday and see what he meant to his mom and me, and how much he’s loved. I’m not sure on the frequency with which I’ll write them—monthly seems about right, maybe more often if something especially significant happens.

I’d love to put together a baby book for him, too. My wife has a locket of hair from his first haircut, so we’re on the same page there. But either way, with the letters he’ll have something to look back on and hopefully feel a little of the gratitude I felt when I saw how much time my mom spent writing about my early years.

Besides, what’s one more writing project on the pile, right? 🙂

Hi, I’m a self-indulgent hypocrite

There might be a little bit of hyperbole in that title, but not much.

I’ve been busier so far this year with creative/artsy stuff than I have been in my whole life up until now, and I have to say it’s been pretty cool. So get comfortable while I talk about myself and clumsily humblebrag about things I’m not very good at for a few minutes, because well…*points at title*.

Self Indulgence # 1: My filmmaking partner and I finished shooting the principal scenes for our horror short, which consisted of a late night at a cafe we were given unlimited access to after hours thanks to the place’s very cool owner. It took several hours to shoot, with me spending much of it holding the boom mic over the actors’ heads (and out of the shot!) and trying to keep things moving along so we didn’t have the cast and crew out too late. There were about 10-12 of us, and when no one is getting paid for their time you want to try and keep everybody happy.

We did a fairly good job of it, I think, until the wind and rain kicked up right before we shot our final scene, which (naturally) was outside. Watching our lead actor and actress shivering between takes and trying to keep the feeling in their hands was humbling and definitely surreal. They were out there freezing their asses off at 1:00am, doing take after take until we got it right and they were reciting lines I wrote. Me. And to top it all off, I will be (with a little help, of course) shooting a scene for the film myself, which is territory I didn’t see myself delving into so soon and that really excites the hell out of me.


The paparazzi wouldn’t leave us alone


Self Indulgence #2: I always liked photography but never really thought about doing anything with it—cameras are freakin’ expensive, you know? But since meeting my new directing buddy and being back in touch with an old friend who’s also a kick ass photographer, it got me thinking about how much I always wanted to get into it. Then it hit me: I have a pretty decent quality camera in my pocket (via my cell phone) all day long, but I also have an okay point and shoot digital camera, so why wasn’t I getting out there and taking pictures?

So that’s what I did. I started going anywhere with decent scenery, trying to figure out how to take pictures that weren’t complete yawns. I also now typically spend my lunch hour (usually between 2:00 and 3:00 am) driving along the empty streets of the small town where I work looking for cool stuff to shoot. Another thing dawned on me, too (pun intended)—working the night shift has me driving home right as the sun is coming up. Now I’m always pulling off the road on my way home wherever the light looks right and snapping pictures of anything and everything that seems remotely interesting, with admittedly mixed results. (side note: I’m also now using Instagram on a regular basis, if you want to see what else I’m shooting click here)


Is it better now…


or now?

Self Indulgence #3: The other artsy-type thing I did recently was decide to try my very shaky hand at yet another hobby: drawing. The thing to emphasize here is that I’ve never had any kind of talent for it whatsoever. Absolutely none. People who have a knack for painting or drawing frustrate the shit out of me. It’s one of the only things I’ve ever been interested in that I could just never get the hang of (also on the list: skateboarding and getting dates). But now, armed with a sketch pad and a bunch of pencils, I aim to change that. One thing is for sure—I won’t be sharing any drawings on here (or anywhere else for that matter) for quite some time. While I’ve managed to go from completely awful to pretty terrible rather quickly, it’s still a whole boatload of suck.

Which brings us to hypocrisy. I realized what a hypocrite I was just today. I have a friend who I think could have a very successful blog, if he chose to pursue it. He expressed interest but never quite took the bait when I urged him to do it a while back, so I got an idea the other night and went ahead and registered a domain name for him here on WordPress. Now the ball is in his court, and I’m curious to see if that gives him a nudge or not.

Either way, it got me looking at my own precious blog. The last time I wrote anything here was over two months ago. What kind of arrogant fuckwhistle preaches at someone else to do something they aren’t doing themselves? So I’m resolving to try and keep this a little more up to date, a post or two a month seems reasonable. Also, I’m done trying to stick to any certain topic or theme. In other words, this is no longer a “writing” or “pop culture” blog (if it ever was one to begin with). I’m sure I’ll still touch on those things here and there, but from now on it’s more of an “I-no-longer-give-a-shit” blog. I have no idea what I’ll post about and I have no idea if any of it will be of any interest to you—I’d like to think so—but I guess if you’re willing to indulge me a little longer we’ll find out the answers to both of those questions together.




What is this? Is this a cusp?

I’m not a huge sports guy, but when I think about my 2015, the most fitting term I can think of to describe it is a sports metaphor: It was a rebuilding year.

I know vague Facebook and blog posts are annoying, but I’m also somewhat guarded about my private life—I’ll go into a little detail, but for the most part either you know what I’m talking about or you don’t. If you’re that curious, you can email me via the contact form on the right side of the page, but suffice to say it was one hell of a year, mostly in bad ways.

Among other things, I had a self-initiated change in relationship status, which led to incredible financial strife; I made some friends and lost some friends, and the year culminated in a change of jobs. I had a few nice bright spots and more lows than I would’ve liked along the way. And for three-quarters of the year, I barely wrote a goddamn word of fiction.

I kept submitting stories for publication, and kept getting rejected. That’s par for the course and doesn’t bother me that much, but when it felt like everything else was going wrong the added rejection sure didn’t help.

Then, something happened: I found myself again.

It started gradually—I was especially mopey the last half of December, but had been slowly  starting to pick up the guitar again. By the day after Christmas, something had reawakened in me and I had written a handful of new songs. And I do mean new, as in they didn’t sound like anything I’d written before. I dug up a few old songs and reworked them some and now I have almost an album’s worth of music and am chipping away at lyrics for them. That felt great, but the nagging voice in the back of my head grew louder.


I’d had an idea for a new novel bouncing around in my head for quite some time, and even though I didn’t have it completely thought out yet I knew pretty much what it would be. I thought the time was right to start it, and the ending would come as I wrote. I forced myself to hit that writer status quo of 1,000 words a day for a while, playing my guitar and working on my new songs as well. Once my creative juices really started to flow again, I also decided to start final edits on the novel I get sick of telling people is 90% done.

I wondered if playing my music with others would help me finish the songs or maybe tweak them into something even better than what I already had. I decided for the first time in probably three years to go on Craigslist, to look for musicians. I didn’t find any, but an odd thing happened: I noticed the link to the section for writers and found an ad that captured my attention. “Filmmaker seeks writers/storytellers for collaborative project.”

A wise man told me  recently that people need to get out of their comfort zone more often and amazing things can happen. I’m sure at a different time in my life I may have ignored that ad and went on about my business—after all, I already had enough on my plate, and who knew if the person behind the ad was even legit? But I answered the ad, and after exchanging emails with the filmmaker I sent him a couple of stories and we decided on one we thought would make a great short film. Suddenly I was also adapting a short story into a screenplay on top of everything else.

I’m trying to be as involved in the film project as I can be, because I love movies and have always wanted to learn about the filmmaking process. As the two of us corresponded, the discussion of finding actors came up, and I reached out to a former coworker through Facebook that I knew had acting experience. Not only did he assure me he could help us find actors willing to work for what we could afford to pay them (peanuts), but he also let me know he was involved with a friend in a fledgling movie production company. They have their first short debuting at a horror convention in a few months and begin filming their first feature this summer. He suggested meeting with his friend to discuss our project and possibly get some help from them to get the film made and make it the best it can be.

That, my friends, is fucking amazing.

I also reconnected with a good friend (the aforementioned wise man) who is stepping up to offer assistance and much needed equipment for the project as well. Things are falling into place in a crazy way and it’s getting me excited.

As for the job? I’m still doing the same work, 911 dispatcher, but for a neighboring county. Less stress, less drama, more pay, and less overtime, i.e. more time to be creative and do the things that make me the person I am? Yes, please. While I can’t stress enough how much I liked the last place I worked, the overtime (much of which was voluntary but necessary, mind you) got overwhelming and left me too drained to want to do anything when I was home. Now it looks like I may finally find the balance I so sorely lacked.

So while most of 2015 sucked a truckload of monkey dicks, it’s looking more and more like 2016 has me on the cusp of some really exciting things ahead. I can hardly wait.


Demon House

A change in my schedule has landed me temporarily on the night shift and allowed me a relatively large amount of free time during the hours when most people are dead to the world. I’m trying to use that time to get back on the proverbial horse in regard to my writing (of which I’ve done woefully little this year), and started with this relatively simple story. Anyone who knows what I’ve been dealing with the past few months—and the last week in particular—should have no trouble spotting the metaphor.


The foundation had cracks. The floorboards were warped and swollen from moisture. Shingles were missing from the roof and there was a hole over the kitchen where a hailstone the size of a baseball had broken through during  a storm the previous spring.

None of that phased Doug. Nor did the termite damage, the poor insulation, or the rusted old pipes that jetted brown water out of the faucets before clearing up. The first time he looked at the house, the realtor’s apologetic tone fell on deaf ears as Doug gazed at the small patch of blue sky visible through the hail-born skylight.

“It’s perfect, he said. “I’ll take it.”

The realtor’s jaw hung open momentarily. He blinked. “You’ll take it? You want to make an offer?”

“I want the house.” Doug found it difficult to put what he was feeling into words. He looked at the scuffed up wall where an old refrigerator had presumably stood for decades, crying for a fresh coat of paint and gestured around the room. “It’s got character. This is the house for me.”

The realtor was smart enough to keep his mouth shut and get Doug back to the office to start the paperwork before he changed his mind. Fourteen days later, Doug had the keys.

It went smoothly enough, to start. Doug patched up the hole over the kitchen and replaced the missing shingles on the roof, then began slowly replacing floorboards and installing new plumbing. He adored the house in spite of its imperfections. Possibly even because of them. It was about a month after he moved in that the real problems started.

At first it was little things—a faint puff of air that sounded like a whisper but was probably just the wind, things falling off of shelves that he must’ve left too close to the edge—Doug didn’t think much of it. Soon doors started slamming behind him and the faint whispers became moans and groans. Doug got less and less sleep, spending much of the night picking up broken knickknacks, the rest of the time forcing himself to keep his eyes shut while he lay in bed and ignore what was happening around him.

He soldiered on, fixing what he could and picking up the pieces as more broke, never asking himself what he should do about it. Things were just the way they were. He dealt with the issues as they arose and carried on, slowly realizing he was absolutely exhausted. Months went by until one day he mentioned his woes to a coworker who asked him a question profound in its simplicity.

“Why do you still live there?”

Doug frowned. “What do you mean? It’s my house.”

“There are houses everywhere. Literally, everywhere. You can find another. It sounds to me like the one you’re living in has some ghosts—demons.”

The notion hung in Doug’s mind. Was that really all there was to it? Could it be a matter of just finding another place? Something about it seemed to him like cheating, like he was taking the easy way out. Was it really that simple?

Over the next few weeks Doug began to seriously consider moving—usually when he was somewhere else, lest the  house know what he was thinking—and the idea started taking hold, putting down roots in his brain. His co-worker was right, his house was haunted, and he’d gotten so used to dealing with the moans and groans, the slamming doors and breaking knickknacks, that it had become commonplace. The thought of living in a house where those things didn’t happen seemed almost too good to be true.

Doug began mentally taking stock of what he would pack up first and and browsing through the real estate section of the newspaper. Excitement and anticipation grew in his belly as moving out of the ghost-riddled pit that had been his home became closer to being reality.

As if it knew, things began to escalate at the house. One night as Doug was padding into the kitchen for a glass of water, the cabinet door opened and slammed shut hard enough to rattle the windows and the chef’s knife that had been siting on the counter teetered and fell point down, stabbing the top of his foot. Doug shouted a wave of profanities, knowing it was no accident. It wasn’t a coincidence. The house was actively trying to hurt him.

After his second time tripping over and stepping on things in the night that hadn’t been there when he went to bed, Doug slept with all the lights on. He started parking in the driveway after waking one morning to find his car running in the garage and the house filling with exhaust. The house wanted to keep him there, all to itself.

With a lot of searching and a little luck, Doug found a new place. It wasn’t as big or nice as the house he’d be moving out of, but he could feel the different energy in the new place. No ghosts. No demons. Nothing but walls and a roof and a floor.

On each subsequent trip back to the house to pick up the last of his things it got a little harder for Doug to leave. Not necessarily for sentimental reasons but because the house made it physically difficult for him to get out. A bookshelf falling over, blocking the door; his car battery somehow going dead despite being brand new; the couch sliding in front of him when he had his arms full in an attempt to trip him.

The last time Doug was in the house, he was having a look around seeing what was left to be taken out. There were still some things he wanted to grab, but most of the essentials had already been taken to the new place. As he was walking down the hall, Doug noticed a chunk of drywall that had fallen away at some point since he’d been there last, exposing a stud full of rot and mold. Frayed electrical wiring hung haphazardly along the the board. Doug stared wide-eyed at the potential disaster, wondering how he’d lived there as long as he had relatively unscathed.

He reached up instinctively with a pointed index finger to touch the frayed wire then hesitated and took a step back, something telling him to use caution. As if on cue, the wire sparked and Doug recoiled. A second spark shot out and the wire began to smolder upwards. A chunk of the stud crumbled away and a puff of dust floated down from the ceiling, surrounding Doug’s head, and the ominous feeling grew inside him. Something bad was about to happen. Something worse than bad. Another piece of the beam crumbled and the ceiling above him buckled. Doug took a step back and a piece of tile crashed down, landing where he’d been standing five seconds earlier. A faint rumble carried through the house and the rotted, exposed stud gave way. The ceiling fell in a domino effect through the room and Doug took off in a sprint. The house collapsed behind him as he ran. At first he thought it was chasing him out, then he realized he was wrong—he was outrunning it as it tried to trap him inside.

Doug burst through the front door to the driveway, the house quaking on its foundation. He made it to his car before turning back to look, just in time to see the place he had called home collapsing in on itself like it were being consumed by a black hole. A small mushroom cloud of dust plumed up from the rubble, and for a moment Doug considered trying to go back and sift through the debris for anything left that could be salvaged, before wisps of smoke wafted up from the heap. The stuff went up like tinder; flames licked at the dry, brittle wood that had made up its frame, engulfing it all in under a minute. Doug leaned against his car and watched it burn as he called the fire department. He could hear the sirens but there would be nothing they could do. It would be little more than ash by the time they got there.

When he thought back, he had mixed feelings about the time he spent in the house. Although it ended in a flaming pile of rubble he would still always have fond memories of those early days—gazing through the hole in the roof over the kitchen, thinking about all the potential, how much could be done to turn it into the house of his dreams. It didn’t turn out that way, of course. As far from it as you could get, actually. But in the end one thing went through his mind like a gunshot in an echo chamber:

At least he got the fuck out of that godforsaken house before it collapsed and trapped him inside forever.

Wonderbook: Worth its Weight in Gold

We all had the “cool” teacher in school—do you remember yours? Mine was Coach Mahr (I think that’s how he spelled it). He taught anatomy and physiology, and was also the track/cross country coach at our high school. He was younger than a lot of the other teachers (probably mid-thirties), and could often be seen out on the track, running alongside his team. In the classroom, he was funny and engaging, and his class was a lot of fun. In contrast, my 12th grade English teacher was Mrs. Simons, was an uptight Irish woman who ran a tight ship and made her class dreadfully boring to attend.

In books about writing, we have Strunk and White on one end of the spectrum (indispensable as it is, The Elements of Style is a bore—stuffy, and a chore to actually try and read), and on the other end, the “cool” one, is Jeff VanderMeer and his awesome writing tutorial Wonderbook: The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction.


Have you ever had the experience of intrinsically knowing something, and the first time you hear or see that something explained a flash bulb goes off in your brain? That’s kind of what reading Wonderbook has been like for me.

See, one of the most common pieces of advice for writers is, ‘you have to read a lot.’ And that’s good advice, because it’s really the only way to see what you do and don’t like, what you think works and what doesn’t, etc. But in the end you pick a lot of those things up almost subconsciously, to the point that you may know what to do but you may not be sure just why (or sometimes, how). Then along comes the amazing, all-knowing wizard Jeff VanderMeer to break it all down for you.

This book explains things I’ve never seen anyone even attempt to explain before (and believe me, I’ve done my share of research and studying). Most writing books lean more to the Strunk and White side of things—a focus on grammar rather than constructing a story. VanderMeer talks about all aspects of creating: from story structure and pacing to character development, and even the act of creating itself, and recognizing and nurturing your own imagination to be your most productive. What’s more, there are a multitude of essays from renowned authors such as Neil Gaiman and George R.R. Martin, to name but a few.

Wonderbook is also chock full of illustrations, some to help drive certain points home, but also just to keep your brain engaged and make the book entertaining. I’m sure I’m probably violating some kind of copyright laws by putting this on my blog, but somehow I think Mr. VanderMeer would be okay with it. It’s one of my favorites:


The book is chock full of similar illustrations, getting even more bizarre and surreal. The book is so densely packed with useful information that within the first few pages I was asking where this marvelous thing had been all my life. It’s also worth noting that I haven’t even finished the book yet. I was going to wait until I was done to write up this piece, but I soon realized I’ll never really “finish” it, because aside from the text, there are also writing exercises and supplemental online content to further the Wonderbook experience. Not to mention the fact that Wonderbook will also serve as a sort of reference manual for me for years to come.

Add to all this the fact that Jeff VanderMeer isn’t just some guy telling other people how to do what he hasn’t had success doing. If you’re not familiar with the name, you may recognize his acclaimed Southern Reach Trilogy—Annihilation, Authority, and Acceptance—which came out to rave reviews last year and are now on track to become a series of movies as well. It gives the advice in Wonderbook a little more weight, somehow.

If you’re a writer or know someone who is (or is thinking about becoming one), they need this book, even if they don’t know it. It’s slightly geared toward fantasy and sci-fi writers, but they’re hardly the only people who will benefit from reading it. I can’t think of a single more useful tool to writers at all levels of competency, and in all genres.

Check it out at amazon here.

Get to the point already!

Taking a break from rewrites today for two reasons: 1) the synapses just aren’t all firing—chalk it up to exhaustion following a busy work week (I’m writing this on my Saturday, which is Sunday for you M-F’ers, even though you’ll be reading it on your Monday, which is my Sunday, got it?), and 2) I don’t want to neglect the blog, so when I got an idea for a post I decided to hurry and write it up.

I haven’t written anything new for quite a while. I’m still trying to get the same batch of 4 short stories published (the oldest of which has been bouncing around for almost a year now), considering final tweaks on novel #1 before finally calling it officially done (I recently had a light bulb moment regarding the final act and may have to rewrite some of the book’s climax), and rewriting novel #2 (#1=Snakebit and #2=Liberating Oz, for those of you keeping score at home). What this means is that I’ve been in an editing frame of mind for quite a while, and will be for at least a couple more months.

On top of that, I just finished Stephen King’s latest novel, Revival, and had a brief discussion on Facebook with my friend and fellow writer (as well as my go-to movie and music expert) Jeff, in which we agreed that Mr. King has an issue with being excessively wordy and needs to keep someone around to tell him when it’s time to cut the crap and get to the point.

How cool is that? Also, if anyone cares, this is an alternate cover, of which there were several, all of them cooler than the official US cover, in my opinion.

How cool is this? This is an animated GIF of an alternate cover, of which there were several, all of them cooler than the official US cover, in my opinion.

I’m not going to get into the specifics of Revival, but it’s by no means a bad book. The first third or so had me riveted as I waited patiently to see how all the backstory would pay off. And the ending was quite good, if you like things dark and twisted like I do. Especially coming from King, it was a satisfying (which in this case means unsettling) ending, and yet I was still a little frustrated when I finished it. Because the rest of it—from about 1/3 of the way through until the last 30 pages or so? Ugh. It was still interesting, at least to me as a musician, but it started to drag on, and on, AND ON, until I started thinking, ‘Good God, when is something going to finally happen?’

A brief word about my job (it ties in, trust me): I’ve completed training and am now a full-fledged Fire and EMS dispatcher, so when calls come in for medical and/or fire-related emergencies, I’m one of the people going out on the radio and telling the units where to go and what’s going on there. It can be stressful (and is, fairly regularly), but it’s actually also a boatload of fun, if you can believe that. But the thing is, among all that chaos I still have to take 911 calls as well and juggle all of it simultaneously. What this has meant is that when I’m on the phone with a caller I have a newfound sense of urgency—I need to get the pertinent information and get off the phone as quick as I can so I’m available on the radio if units need to tell me or ask me something. I feel like a lot of writers could benefit from having a similar sense of urgency in telling their stories.

Elmore Leonard had the advice that aspiring writers have probably read a thousand times, “Try and leave out the parts that readers skip.” I wish more writers would take that advice. Now, I’m not opposed to taking some time to give some backstory, or maybe a lot of attention to detail in certain scenes if it’s called for, but for the most part I like stories that cut to the chase and keep the ball rolling, like that big boulder at the beginning of Raiders of the Lost Ark.


Liberating Oz is written in the first person, and it’s the first extended piece (meaning longer than a short story) I’ve written from that POV. The fist third-to-half of the book is setting up events that unfold in the second half, and for some reason it feels at times like I’m rambling and not staying on task when telling the story. Deep down, I don’t really think I am (I won’t know for sure until I sit down with my reading cap on versus my writing/editing cap), after all the thing’s barely novel-length as it is, but still, I wonder. In my conversation with Jeff about Revival, I said to him, “It would’ve made a killer novella.” I don’t want the same thing said about my own work. I’d rather write a killer novella than a too-long novel that bores people.

Writers out there: do you ever have any issues with feeling like you’re taking too long to get to where you’re going, be it first or third person? How do you keep yourself on the straight and narrow?

Readers out there: what books can you think of that lost you along the way because they just took too long to get to the point? Or, conversely, what books got right to it like a gunshot and had you riveted from start to finish?

Until next time, I’m off to do a little reading, once I decide which of the remaining books I got for Christmas is next. What a nice problem to have.

“It’s about 250 pages.”

As I look ahead to having an actual completed novel—which isn’t a case of counting my chickens before they’re hatched, I don’t think, but rather anticipating what’s to come—there are a few things I have to do that are deceptively difficult. For the most part, they all revolve around one basic question:

“What’s your book about?”


That’s a fair enough question, and one any writer worth their salt should be able to answer (and answer well) in a sentence or two. Believe it or not, that’s not always as easy as it sounds. Take my near-completed novel (which, by the way, has the tentative title Snakebit):

It’s about Jimmy Ray Day, a repo man/enforcer-type guy who works for a crooked car dealer, who’s given a hit to carry out, but he botches the hit in the worst possible way and finds himself on the run from his boss, headed to Mexico with a duffel bag full of cash and cocaine, where he meets a gorgeous (and possibly mentally unstable) young woman who he falls for hard and fast.

Technically that is just one sentence, but it’s a humdinger of a run-on, and that’s just the first half of the book, neglecting to mention anything that happens from that point forward. After spending months (on the conservative side) writing 60,000 + words, trying to summarize it in a few paragraphs or a couple of sentences is pretty hard to do.

But I have to figure it out, because like I said at the beginning, that’s what’s coming up. You have to be able to hook people, make them want to read the book, in a sentence or two—that’s called the “elevator pitch.”

You get it, right? Like, you step onto an elevator and someone else steps on with you (let’s say a forty-something woman in crisp business attire). You exchange pleasantries and you mention you’re a writer (since all writers are so naturally outgoing), and she says, “Is that right? I’m an editor at XXX books.” The elevator starts going up and you realize you have until she gets off the elevator to sell her on your book.

You need to have something ready, something you can say without going, “Okay well…so, there’s this guy, right? He’s like, a criminal, but not really a bad guy, you know? So anyway, this thing comes up, and he doesn’t want to do it but he knows he has to…but he messes it up, and…”

No. You need to spout out a couple sentences that explain who the main character is, what the conflict in the story is, and why it’s compelling.

Then, along with the elevator pitch is the dreaded query letter. A query letter is a one page letter that you send either to publishers, editors, or agents to convince them that your book is awesome and you are awesome and everything you do is awesome (in other words, a completely factual document).

Part of the query letter is listing any publishing credentials, which, luckily, I have a few (although I could stand a few more, ya hear me editors who currently have my submissions?). But the most critical part is the synopsis, where (you guessed it) you spend anywhere from one to three paragraphs explaining what your book’s about and making the person reading the query letter want to read (and therefore, publish or try to publish) your book.

Luckily, there are more articles about and examples of query letters than you can shake a stick at. Also, my second novel (tentatively titled Liberating Oz, BTW), whenever it’s finished (I’m trying to stay realistic and just stick with an end of the year goal), has a much simpler plot and a much clearer hook, so I don’t think that one will present the same challenges.

And so, while I try to rectify a short story that’s a great idea at its core but just isn’t working for some reason, prepare to start a second draft of Oz that’s basically a rewrite, and wait for feedback from Snakebit’s beta readers, I’ll also be looking at query letters, maybe hammering out a draft or two of them, and looking for publishers to send them to.

You writers out there—do you have any trouble summarizing your work into a quick hook? What’s been your experience with query letters?