Bookstores, Writers Groups, and Porn Stars

The last time I had a writers’ group, it met in a cooperative artists’ studio/gallery. It was a good writers’ group, in that it was encouraging, with a few talented regulars, and it did not meet at the bookstore where I worked at the time.

Still, every now and then, a bookstore customer would show up there.

Let’s be honest. I probably invited most of them. Which sounded like a good idea at the time. In 99% of the cases, it was a good idea.

And then, there was “Herbert.”

The first time I met Herbert–or at least, the first time I remember him–was at one of those “pitch your book” events. Herbert’s book–it was more an idea for a book really–was The Lives of Retired Porn Stars. (He may have had a catchier title.) He intended to interview retired porn stars about their lives.

The problem… which our industry professionals pointed out with superhuman tact and delicacy… was that Herbert did not know any porn stars. And, believe it or not, a publisher is not going to hook you up with porn stars to interview just because you have an idea for a book.

So… faced with the challenge of meeting porn stars in a morally upstanding, Midwestern city, Herbert turned to the most obvious place: Booksellers.

And that’s where I come in. Hi.

Yes. In addition to the aforementioned pitch your book event, the bookstore where I worked had also hosted events for a couple of porn stars-cum-authors.

No. I didn’t work at either of those events. I didn’t even work the day of those events. No, like most of the women at the bookstore, I was smart enough to take a quick step backward when they were looking for volunteers.

And from all accounts, that was a wise choice.

But Herbert needed porn stars, and he recognized me from an event at the same venue, and two plus two=join my writers’ group.

‘Cause then, we’ll be friends, and of course, I’d be willing to do a friend a favor. (Like, you know… quick little flip through the company Rolodex.)

He never wrote anything, or if he did, he never shared with the group. He always thought whatever I’d done was brilliant. (‘Cause, Besties.)  And if there was any possible way, he’d be sitting next to me.

If those chairs were taken, he’d wedge another chair in.

If I was in an arm chair, he’d sit on the arm of that chair.

And if my artist friends rearranged the better-than-life-sized, barbed wire, male nudes so they pointed at the arms of the chair? Well, he’d just have to arch his back.

The last I knew, Herbert was in the hospital, after a heart attack. He missed a meeting, and someone called to check on him. I hope he got better, realized life is short, and started writing for real. Maybe he wrote the great American novel, got a pseudonym, and bought a yacht. Let’s say he did.

I don’t know that he didn’t.

Oh? There has to be a moral to this story? Very well,then. The moral of the story is this: Plan ahead. You don’t want to be lying on your death bed wishing you’d spent more time cultivating meaningful relationships with porn stars. (Or with your family, or your friends, or writing a book. Whatever.)

Identifying The Problem

I have a collection of 3-dimensional puzzles my sister gave me. Not the kind where you construct the Taj Mahal out of Styrofoam. The kind with seven or eight pieces that are supposed to add up to a cube or a pyramid or a sphere.

They’re nice looking, too. You don’t mind having them out on a shelf where people can see.

My favorite are the sphere and the barrel.

I got the sphere first. Probably the very first one. And, of course, taking the thing apart was easy. Getting it back together drove me nuts.

The barrel came later. And it was so tightly carved that taking it apart took me more brute force and brain power than it should have.

The experience was radically different. And that made me miss the fact that the two are basically the same puzzle. The pieces are shaped a little different, and that gives them a different shape. But assembling them? The pieces go together the same way.

I won’t tell you how long that took me to figure out.


Organizing Query Research–Part The First

Last night, I started working on my agent submissions list for the next novel. I was up a long time, just pulling together a list of names.

Well, a tidy little pile of names. “List” is probably not the right word for this. I have index cards. Lots and lots of index cards. And it’s probably not a complete list… er… pile, right now.




Each card–right now–has the following information

  1. Agent’s name–One Agent Per card.
  2. Agency name–where this person works
  3. Genres–by which I mean, the genres they represent that I actually write actual full-length fiction in. It’s NOT a list of everything they represent.

And–at this exact moment–I’m focusing on #3 more than anything else. The goal is to find the agent who is the best fit for me, so I’m looking for the person who represents the highest percentage of my hard drive.


There’s no separate pile for Sci Fi, and Thrillers, but not Fantasy. They’re in that top pile. Personal priorities, but I do think most of my stuff falls on the Sci-Fi side of that line. So, they’re weighted accordingly.

So, there you go. 100+ names triaged into manageable groups.

Here and there–I’m going to admit this up front–there are a few cards that are going to get bumped up a group or two. Most of them are people I’ve already had contact with and liked, and can see myself working well with. The teeny-tiny, fraction of one-percent are people who represent my favorite authors. So, yes, I’m weighting these on emotional considerations, also. Not unduly so, I hope.

So, what about you? Any strategies for organizing you’d like to share?

That’s One Hell of a “WANT” Ad!


You’d think “Newspaper Reporter” would be on the list of jobs that pay more than I make, but apparently, no. Not all the time. Not at the Fairbury Journal-News, at least. They’re looking for correspondents who are willing to work for free.

Now, in the Journal-News’ defense, it is a small-town newspaper. Like a lot of small-town newspapers, it’s probably hanging on by a thread. And maybe, it genuinely can’t afford to pay it’s reporters a real wage. I don’t know, but I wouldn’t be surprised.

I thought about this.

Well, after a brief eye-roll, and a couple of snarky thoughts about the Huff-Po of the Plains, that is. Because, of course, work for “exposure” or–as this ad puts it, “credit for any stories”–is kinda a sticky point for creatives. Hell, it’s the thorn in their side.

No. I’m not going to work for free. And I’m sure as hell not going to pretend that working for “exposure” or “credit for any stories” is NOT working for free. It is.

But this is a small-town newspaper, and it happens to be one I like. (‘Cause, reasons. You know how it is.) So, I spent an hour or so thinking about what it would take–what I could ask this impoverished, small-town newspaper for in place of cold hard cash.

I came up with things. Barter could work for me. I wouldn’t mind trading some of my writing for ad space. And based on the amount of filler in the paper, they do have ad-space. Some of my other ideas were more out-there. Server space. Printers, and machines, and networks. Leftover cold cuts from the company picnic.


And as I thought about things I would be willing to barter–about the things that I believe are worth something to me– I began to understand that the problem isn’t cash flow, or matching column inches to ad space, or even printing up a few posters to make me happy.

There are so many things that could have been offered… but weren’t.  Ad space. Posters. Servers. A damn link on the newspaper’s website. Or even just a statement that the paper is willing to make a trade. “Let’s put our heads together, and see what we come up with.”

What’s missing is a statement that my time is valuable.

That the work I would be doing for them is valuable.

And if the situation were **somehow** reversed?

If I had twice as many twitter followers as they do, or a website of my own with an international following…

Would I get my ad space in exchange for exposure?


Shopping for Other People’s Lives


I’ve spent a lot of time antiquing in the past couple of weeks. I’m looking for that mythical piece of 16mm that I can afford to destroy in an effort to make my projector work. Apparently, people are attached to the family films. (Yes, even though they have no plot, and no sex appeal.)

I ran into some books, yesterday. Old books. Books that clearly came out of one person’s private collection. About a hundred years old, give or take. And they were labeled wrong, and priced out of my reach. (Particularly since whoever owned them was not a note-taker.) I think the seller was taking a cross-your-fingers-and-hope-for-the best approach to Bookselling.

The books made me think of one of my old professors. That’s more my imagination being dramatic than anything grounded in facts. The books were close to his field, but they weren’t quite right.

Still, I was left with a vague sadness, holding these books, turning their pages… because in order for them to be there, someone I would like to have known–someone I would have gotten along with–had to die.

I might check up on those prices, the next time I’m near the store. They’d probably like to come live with me.

Still no 16mm.  I will keep looking, when I have the time and energy.

Writing With a Sense of (Some Other) Place


In the first draft of my first trunk novel, the story was set in a small town that exists in real life.  My characters lived in a house that belongs to one of my family members, and got ice cream at the very same cafe that used to make the best root beer freezes in the entire world. My villain took several people hostage in a very weakly disguised version of a business where I worked for a couple of months, once upon a time.

Oh. And, of course, my villain was a serial killer running rampant through streets and businesses that really exist, and which would probably prefer not to be associated with mass homicide.

This is interesting. It’s a small town. Fading. I don’t remember it’s glory days, and frankly, it isn’t getting the best of the current economy. Or the one before. Or… well, any economy in recent memory. I keep hearing revitalization, but I’m just not seeing any.

A cadavers and carnage museum might be just the thing to pull people off the main road and into the local businesses. If my stories were very popular, it could be the Mitford of Mayhem. They could give tours, and maybe have a parade.

Ultimately, common sense kicked in. I fictionalized the crap out of that town, and moved it across the border into Iowa. Iowa appreciates a good bloodbath. Unlike some places.

Do you write about recognizable, real places? Or do you change them, so people won’t know? What made you make that choice?



Legacy Technology; Or Doesn’t a Revere 16mm Projector Look Lovely, Projected Through The Air?

Let’s all take a deep breath, and remember that digital, streaming video is now a thing. I enjoy being able to push a button and watch video that never coils itself around my neck, and never squeezes the life out of me.

I’d forgotten how much until I tried to load some old family films into a projector, this afternoon. Crunch, Crunch, snap. Well, what did you expect? It’s pretty old film, and a slightly less old projector.

Back in his day, my grandfather was quite the camera buff. That’s a euphemism for “I have more feet of film than Warner Brothers.” None of this film has any recognizable plot, of course. It’s very episodic. I don’t believe I’ve ever manage to sit through a complete family film marathon.

But, long story short, it’s a few moments of historical interest interspersed with hours of mid-century wholesome.

The film was transferred to VHS in the eighties, and now to DVDs (yes, just now. DVDs.) And by gosh and by golly, the moment the VHS goes out to be transferred… well, that’s when the videos are absolutely needed right now.

So, we turn to the originals.

We are looking–in a million billion years worth of family videos–for a two minute segment featuring my great-grandfather the blacksmith blacksmithing.

Did I mention these are in unlabeled, un-indexed canisters? We might have had labels once, but… not now.

The project has now been rescheduled for my next day off. And probably every other day off, until such time as the DVDs arrive.

Suffice it to say, you’ll be getting pictures. (Yeah. I know. I may have inherited that.)

Or, you’ll be getting a nice summons to act as character witnesses in my inevitable abuse of an elderly projector trial. One or the other.

A Long Drive in The Rain



I was out most of the day, and got a pretty serious rain storm. Most of these are pre-storm pictures, but you get the general idea.  And if whoever parked their train across the highway could come pick it up, that would be appreciated. (Yes, that’s a highway. Yes, it says so on the signs.)


I was stopped for quite a while. I entertained myself by taking pictures. Pretty sure I also entertained the guy in the truck behind me with all my slithering around to get to places in the car that had decent views.


Nothing quite as American as the sight of a few hundred tanker trucks rolling up to a grain elevator.  Wait!  What? (Possible they also dropped by the bio-diesel plant down the road. I don’t know.)


Plenty of freight-train noises to keep us all awake while we were waiting.

Feeding the Muse… She’s a Cannibal, You Know.


You get to ask strange questions, if you’re a writer. A lot of the times, the questions are the purpose in themselves. Sometimes, you even get real answers.

I just finished perusing an internet’s worth of Lichtenberg figures.  Yup. The marks left behind–on objects, or on people-by a lightening strike. There aren’t a whole lot of pictures, because it’s pretty rare. They’re beautiful, and I’m honestly a little entranced by them. Once I ran out of Lichtenberg figures, I moved on to electrical burns in general. Those aren’t so aesthetically pleasing.

I don’t know what I’m looking for. If it isn’t just a wild tangent, I’ll know it when I see it.

Somehow, I got from there to axe murders. Itasca, Colorado Springs… Somewhere else. I can’t remember. But the truth is, I’m a little bored by axe  murders. That didn’t last long.

An article on using DNA to store information. That one caught, and I think there’s something there. My brain’s clicking away.

A whole lot of information has to go in to get the results I want back out. Sometimes, that means a biography, or a history, and sometimes that means skipping from place to place on the internet.

My imagination likes to cherry-pick, and we just can’t do that on a television and pop-music diet.

Useful Things to Say To Developing Writers


If you want to be a doctor, you go talk to your local GP. If you want to be a teacher, there are a school full of people you can ask questions. But…

One of the things that’s tough about “I want to be a writer” is finding people who have done that successfully. The results–the books that writers write–are all around you, but it’s harder to find a writer. Even if you’re hanging out with other writers, finding someone who knows how to get from that first draft to a finished product is tough.

“This Could Use Some Structural Editing/Block Revision.”

Developing writers need to know that there is more than one kind of editing. And the editing you learned about in school–with the commas and the dictionary? That’s copy editing. That’s probably not the kind of editing a novel needs. At least, not at first.

In general, the longest thing you’re going to write in high school is a ten to fifteen page paper. And you’re going to do that in a matter of weeks; maybe, if you’re one of those last-minute folk, you’ll do it in days. Structural editing isn’t really a thing.

A three to four hundred page novel is a different beast. You stop. You start. You take time off for your cousin’s wedding.

Even if you started with an outline, the novel you wrote might not follow it. There could be duplicates. And you might have taken that left turn at Poughkeepsie that looked so appealing at the time.

Then, when you’re finished, you track down some unsuspecting English teacher or Librarian–or worse, a relative who “reads a lot”–and ask for their opinion.

So, for all the poor victims who are looking for something to say about that first novel that… well, it’s repetitive, and there are chunks missing, and the plot seems to veer off in the middle? That’s your line.

“This could use some Structural Editing.” or “This could use some Block Revision.”