Wednesday, October 30, 2013


November is National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo. It challenges participants to write 50,000 words of a new novel between November 1 and 30. I’m on the threshold of a new novel, so I’ve decided to participate.

What encourages a novelist to write? Deadlines, a muse, poverty, boredom. NaNoWriMo is an artificial deadline. Nothing happens at the end of the month if you don’t hit 50,000 words. Still, it might offer a bit of motivation, and that’s a good thing.

During this coming month I also expect to publish my new novel Blood Anjels and re-release my first novel Keeping Private Idaho. It will be a busy month.

Care to join me in taking the NaNoWriMo challenge? You can do so by going to

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Word Play

I play word games. Maybe you do, too. I play Words With Friends (WWF) and Scramble. In the old days their equivalents were Scrabble and Boggle. I frequently lose. I am a writer. What does that say? More about my gaming skills than my skills with words, I hope.

A writer plays with words all the time, seeking exactly the right ones to convey meaning and trimming them until they are just shy of losing that meaning.

I think many of my WWF opponents would balk at writing a short story. It would not seem like word play to them. Writing a novel, to them, might seem an impossible task.
That is not to say they lack a skill with words. They know how to spell them and they have a good vocabulary, or they would rarely beat me in those ongoing games.

Writing requires a different skill set than playing word games. Even so, some people refuse to accept a WWF challenge from me because they think a writer might play well beyond their level of skill. I might. I might not. I play with people who have little formal education beyond high school, and I play with lawyers and PhDs. There is little correlation between education level and WWF skill level in my regular group. Of course there are players who quickly drop out when they find they can’t successfully compete, just as there are more skilled players who get bored because they aren’t challenged by my gaming abilities.

It’s only a game. It isn’t writing. Nevertheless it pleases me to play the modern version of Scrabble because my great aunt played. Agnes Just Reid was a well-known regional writer and almost as well known for her ruthless Scrabble games, played on the kitchen table of her ranch house with the cast iron stove keeping everyone warm. I play on a mobile device and rarely have a lemon pie baking in the background. The inclination, playing with words as vocation and avocation, is the same. I link to think it would please her to know that I write and that I play, and that one of my top tier opponents is one of her great, great grandsons. Word play is a family tradition.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Weakening Words

What does an editor do for a writer? I’m thinking about this because I’ve been asked to serve on a panel on that subject at an upcoming seminar for writers.

It should be obvious that editors find errors. They find where words were left out or doubled. They make sure you have commas in all the right places and that capitols are correctly used. They help you rework awkward sentences. They call you out when something is just a little too cute or when you’ve given in to alliteration one too many times.

Editors are your lifeline for continuity. They point out that Martha was named Margaret, earlier. They notice when a character has just shaved in one scene and still sports a beard in the next.

I most value my editor for endlessly berating me for using
weakening words. I’m good about staying away from that common scourge of writers, passive voice. My personal sins are “just” and “though.” People use those words frequently in conversation. I’m able to slip a few by her if they are cloaked in quotes. Though, she just won’t allow it, otherwise.

Those words are my personal disease. Fortunately, I have a good doctor.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

On Deadline

Do you expect to keep writing after you’re dead? Bear with me here. This is not a religious or philosophical question. It is pure practicality.

Whatever your religious beliefs, whether they include heaven, hell, purgatory, a specific number of virgins, reincarnation, dancing angels, Karma, or blood sacrifice, they probably do not include extra innings to finish that story you have in your head.

You’ll find good advice from experienced writers about how you should spend X hours a day, or write X words, even on holidays and Mondays. That’s all about discipline. It’s a way to get something done.

My advice, today, is about why you should write, not how you go about it. You should write because the story in your head will turn to dust when the lights go out. No one will know it ever existed if it was just a conversation you’ve been having with yourself for the past 20 years. Get it out. Put it on paper. Sleep better at night.

Do not wait until the story is perfect inside your head. You will wait too long. Write it down in all its imperfection, then perfect it. You’ve heard of rewriting, haven’t you? You know you will improve it every time you comb through it and that your editor will improve it some more.

What are you waiting for? Why do you think they call it a deadline?

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Old Friend/New Friend

I’ve known Jack Sunday, radio personality on KFGO, Fargo, ND, since his mother sent him to school on his first day in the first grade wearing a big button, white on blue, announcing his first name. In spite of that fashion faux pas, we have remained friends ever since. We can go years without seeing each other and pick up the conversation as if time hasn’t passed at all.

I had met Jack’s son, Curt Rogers, only once, and then briefly. Over the weekend I had the opportunity to spend a couple of hours with him in Denver. To my delight it was as comfortable from the first minute as if it had been Jack himself. There were flashes of his father when he would turn his head just right or in the particular indignation we shared over outrageous politicians. Flashes, yes, but Curt is his own man with his own powerful personality.

Curt is, among other things, a writer (see
). We spent some time talking about my work and his. We talked about the difficulty of getting a vivid idea out of your head and onto the page. 

He has a story that needs to be told and the skills to tell it. I eagerly await its completion.

Meanwhile, I shared a secret with him that everyone else will find out only when Blood Anjels is published, probably within the next few weeks. It is the reason I had this story inside my head.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Permission, Please

I am especially careful when using other people’s words or images, because I’ve had my work snatched without permission before. A few years ago an anthology of Idaho writers was published, in which 13 short vignettes I’d written were used not only without permission, but without attribution. Adding insult to injury, they were credited in the index to another writer. We settled.

I’m thinking of this right now because I’m seeking permission to use a Paul Simon quote as an epigraph in my latest novel. You’ve seen them. These are the pithy little quotes at the beginning of a novel that the novelist wants to include because they bear some relationship to the story. Sometimes they may even be the inspiration for the story.

In my case, I remembered the lyric line after I’d finished the novel. It’s the perfect introduction, so I’m eager to use it. With permission.

I could probably quote it here without fear of repercussion, but I won’t. As I said, I’m careful.

So, my people (me) are now working with Paul Simon’s people (Paul Simon’s people) to obtain that permission. Wish me luck. Buy one of his albums.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Beautiful Ruins

Why are we drawn to ruins? As an artist, I seek the derelict car rusting in the overgrown field. The tumbledown shed that was pedestrian when it was a freshly painted, slapped-together project, now holds romance. Even the bones of some animal, bleached and beginning to spall into dust hold a fascination for us that a fleeting glimpse of the same creature seen through the trees when it was quick, would not.

The Sphinx, the Great Wall, Angkor Wat, all have a pull on us in their ruins. What fascinates us about decay?

If I paint a perfect picture of a 1947 Diamond T truck sparkling in the morning sun it will elicit a shrug at best. Pull a wheel off, prop the axle on a block, break out a headlight and give the thing a few dents, then cover it with a variegated coating of rust, and now you have something. Let’s sell prints of that.

Death, I suppose. We are compelled and repelled by it. We must stop at the accident scene. We have to look at the scar. Maybe if we see it a little closer, if we experience the terrible from just a little distance, we can calm our fears. If we get to know it, maybe it won’t hurt us. If we cannot escape that ultimate curtain call, well, at least it won’t surprise us so much when we are ruined.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Return of the Private

In a recent post I wrote about how there was an element of surprise reading something I’d written as recently as six weeks before. I have a little more experience with that, now. I’m re-issuing Keeping Private Idaho after 17 years. I needed to go back through the book to correct something from the first edition, so I read it for the first time since it was published.
I’m glad to say that it still holds up pretty well, though now it’s a period piece, rather than a contemporary novel. There were several things I had completely forgotten about the book in that time, so it really was a lot like a first read.
The correction, by the way, was in the name of the dog featured in the book. The dog was named after the Newfoundland that accompanied Lewis and Clark on their epic Corps of Discovery. For most of the previous 190 years, historians had referenced the dog as Scannon, so that’s what I called his namesake. Just a couple of months after Keeping Private Idaho was published, researchers discovered a creek in Montana that Lewis, who owned the dog, had labeled Seaman creek. Many features were named after Corps of Discovery members, so historians began looking carefully at the journals again. They decided that “Scannon” was actually Seaman. Newfoundlands are water dogs, famous for serving on ships, so Seaman actually made more sense. So, I was done in by imprecise penmanship.
The change led to a little alteration in dialogue. Additionally, I tightened up some scenes, in preparation for the re-release.
The biggest change, though, is in the cover. Here’s the new cover, by Boise artist Ward Hooper. The printed and kindle versions of the book will likely be out in November. 

Friday, October 4, 2013

Cover Art

Three books are competing for space in my head these days. I’m thinking about a couple of minor tweaks to Blood of Anjels. I’m preparing Keeping Private Idaho for re-release, nearly 20 years after it first came out. And, I’m giving a lot of thought to my next young adult novel, The Crappy Used Diary.

Today I have an exciting announcement about two of those books. Well-known Boise artist Ward Hooper has agreed to do a new cover for Keeping Private Idaho and will also do a cover for Blood of Anjels. Ward is best known for his vintage style posters. That style will work just fine for Keeping Private Idaho. Expect the cover for Blood of Anjels to have a little edgier look.

Check out Ward’s incredible portfolio at