Monday, July 30, 2012

And The Winner Is . . .

Cordelia Dinsmore won a copy of Jack Gorman Got Cut By A Girl for her comment and story about drunken men behaving badly (and the need for glasses).

Congratulations Cordelia! I hope you like the anthology.

Monday, July 23, 2012

The Difference Beween The Kindness of Strangers and Deus Ex Machina.

"Whoever you are - I have always depended on the kindness of strangers." - Blanche speaking to the Doctor, A Streetcar Named Desire, Scene 11, Tennessee Williams.

While Blanche's statement to the doctor as she's being taken to the insane asylum is tragic in Streetcar, at some point we all find ourselves relying on the kindness of strangers. For me, the most recent occurrence happened one morning while I was rushing to court. Instead of going out the front door of my house like I'd planned, I left through the garage. This meant I missed seeing my suit jacket, which was hanging on the banister by . . . you guessed it, the front door. Halfway to court I realized my error. And just how screwed I was.

Now, I live at least an hour from most of the courts I appear before, and generally this means I plan for just these emergencies. I usually have a spare set of heels and a blazer in my car. Unfortunately, for this time when those items could have come in handy, I'd left the back-up blazer at the office, and hadn't put a new blazer (you know, that one on the banister) in the car.

My Cousin Vinny taught us the importance of being properly dressed for court.  How big the transgretion is depends on your judge. The reaction can run from mild disapproval and a related ding on your reputation for being disorganized to a contempt citation and a fineI wouldn't know my judge until I showed up. Too late. So, in true Vinny style, I called every clothing store I could think of between where I'd realized my gaff and the courthouse.

Consignment Boutique? Opens on noon on Mondays. Did I mention this was a Monday?
Leesburg Outlet Mall? Opens at 10. Court starts at 10 - no good.
Lou Lou, a small boutique in historic Leesburg? Also opens at 10,
It's now 9:15 am. ACK!

Worse, I still needed to get my attorney's fee affidavit notarized by the Clerk of the Court. Without the affidavit, my client doesn't get an attorney's fee award. Expecting at least a tongue-lashing from the Court for being so casual, I scurried into the courthouse.

Here's where we pause from some back story. By and large, the court clerks in Virginia (and, in fact, in most courts I've appeared over the last 18 years) are fabulous and helpful people. If you aren't a jerk to them, the clerks will often go far above the call of duty to help you.  That Monday was no exception.

Repeating to myself, "being needy doesn't make me special" and "my emergency isn't theirs," I tried not vibrating to pieces while I was in three different lines to get to the notary.

The clerk sensed my anxiety - probably because I was shifting from foot to foot - and asked if there was anything else she could do.

I said, "No thank you, I'm just going to be yelled at by the judge for forgetting my blazer, and not looking forward to it."

Without missing a beat, she asked, "Do you want to borrow my sweater?"

The sweater was black and cut a lot like a blazer. I may have hugged her. After assuring her I'd bring it back after court, I rushed to my courtroom (2B - no kidding).

I sat in the courtroom, still under-dressed and surrounded by a cloud of another woman's perfume.  Anxiety chewed on me The butterflies in my stomach and light-headedness rivaled those from my very first court appearance 18 years earlier. I debated apologizing for not having a blazer and the benefits of keeping my big mouth shut.

Court does not work like it does on television. Most days, there are a number of cases for the court to deal with, and she calls them one at a time. This means a lot of waiting. My case was, of course, called last.

After forty minutes of agony, I was the only attorney left in the galley. The judge finally called my case. I didn't get yelled at. Giddy, I practically skipped back to the Clerk's Office to return the sweater. After thanking the clerk, humbly, profusely and without reservation, I left the courthouse.

So, why do I mention my personal crisis on this writing blog other than as a "thank you" to the clerk in question? Because random acts of kindness happen. When we use those moments well in our writing, the reader believe that events could happen in just that way. If done poorly, the reader rejects them (and our story).

Did you believe my story about the missing blazer? Hopefully, that answer is yes, since it actually happened about a month ago. Would you have believed it if I hadn't stopped to tell you how amazingly helpful the Clerks are? Also, true by the way. But without that detail, the back story to set up why that particular clerk might have helped me,  you probably wouldn't have believed me.

There's a reason why common writing wisdom says if you need a gun on the mantelpiece in last scene, you better show it being  placed there in the first few scenes. The reader needs to believe the coincidence is plausible. If you don't properly establish the possibility or motivation or predisposition, your reader will cry "deus ex machina" and  reject the "twist."

When writing make sure you take the time to set up the random act of kindness. The ground work could be as little as adding a line or two, or you might need a scene. In a fictional version of the blazer incident, the character, while waiting in line, would think about all the times a clerk had saved her from making a mistake, and lament that this wasn't a mistake a clerk could fix. That little bit of back story makes the loan of the sweater credible. (In my fictionalized story, by the way, it would have been a blazer that the clerk loaned the MC.)

If your story has a random act of kindness, you should ask yourself if you've told the reader everything she needs to believe in it. 

Friday, July 20, 2012

Release Day Contest - Jack Gorman Got Cut By A Girl

Today is the release day for Jack Gorman Got Cut By A Girl. You can find it here on the Musa site, and here on Amazon. I'll update the link for Barnes and Nobles once it goes live.

When Celina Summers gave us the task of writing a story about a drunk who gets cut by a girl, and a deadline for submission, the question became "what to write?" As I've said in other posts, the only limitations on the story were that Jack must be cut by a girl, could not get laid, and could not be killed (although one story does stretch this restriction). I figured if one girl with a sword was Jack's nightmare, a bunch of chicks in chainmail with very large swords would be his seventh level of hell. My idea was a hapless Jack would stumble into an all female Society for Creative Anachronisms ("SCA") group while they were practicing. I even had the first few lines.

This was not the story I wrote.


As I thought it through, there wasn't any real "there" there. The storyline would be predictable and staid. So, that idea was out. But the initial kernel - Jack having to deal with a trained women warrior stuck. If I couldn't drop him into an SCA meeting, where else could I dump him with a lot of women who just happened to have swords (or daggers, knifes, you get the point)? None of the restrictions said I had to stay contemporary?

What about a post-apocalyptic Earth where the men were mostly wiped out? A start. How about we take this off world too? Better? An off-world matriarchal society where Jack should be prized for his maleness and still can't cut a break or get laid? Ohh, I liked that.

I needed magic. After all, how was Jack going to get to this world and then get out to the next story since I wouldn't know where my story fit in the anthology until after it was written? The post-apocalyptic world crept back in and mixed with Stonehenge. Magic became a fusion of technology, long forgotten by most, and traditional magic. So my wizard has electric lights but also alchemical paraphernalia. She also became a minor antagonist and the Raven's, main character's, relationship character. Jack's own inept attempts to get himself home and interact in this brave new world made him the primary antagonist.

The result was Through the Stone Circle, and I hope you enjoy it.

Now for the reason you've scrolled down, the Contest.


In honor of Jack's and his inherent talent to behave badly, I want your best "boys behaving badly" or drunken story. Leave them in the comments. The funniest, in my opinion, will win a copy of Jack Gorman Got Cut By A Girl and Shots at Redemption. The contest will remain open until July 28th and I'll announce the winner on this site on July 30.

Excerpt - Jack Gorman Got Cut By A Girl:

Two days later, the Sheriff’s Deputy came by our house. He is a big man, not easily flustered.

“I’ve got a few questions about the report you sent in,” he said, holding up a printout of my email.

“Yes sir,” I said, all cooperation, and launched into a recount of my misadventure. I had barely got to the part where I encountered the unfriendly drunk when he stopped me with a wave of his hand.

“Wait, wait, wait,” he said, shaking his head. “You mean to say this happened here?”

“Uh, yes?”

“And… it was you with the sword?”


The deputy slapped the email printout against his thigh in frustration. Shaking his head, he said: “That Jack Gorman, I’m just sick of him. He came to me, you know, saying he was attacked by a gay guy with a sword outside the Waterwheel!”

I remained silent. The Waterwheel is a bar almost a mile away. And I am most definitely not a guy.

My mother, who had been listening from the front door, came out and stood behind me. “Um, no,” she said. “It happened here, on our front porch. I heard it.”

“Yeah, yeah, I believe you,” said the deputy, rubbing his face. “Look, clearly you did nothing wrong, but the fact that he filed a report—even if it’s a false one—means I may have to confiscate that sword as evidence. You’ll get it back,” he assured me, “don’t worry.”

“That’s okay,” I said, grinning. “I have two more as back up!”

Ultimately, even though my sword was confiscated, I had the last laugh. Walking the dog a few days later I was stopped by my neighbor and asked what the commotion was last Saturday night. I told them.

“Aw man, Gorman messed up bad.” he said. “He’s been going around bragging about how he got attacked by a man with a sword. I’ll never let him hear the end of this: he got cut by a girl!”

What I didn’t tell him, what got left out of the email and my official statement, is what I did after I wrote that original report.

Before I went to sleep that night (and it was a difficult thing to do), I cast a little spell. I had never tried to cast a spell before. I have a friend who is a witch and she tells me I am probably a witch too, just untrained.

So that night I cast a spell. A spell to make sure that if this Jack Gorman was ever going to cause trouble again, anywhere, any time, there would be a girl with a sword (or something similar) to stop him. I also imagined him going away—preferably far away. I imagined him, very clearly, walking away down a dark and deserted road, toward a door made of light, and a sound like a sword being wiped clean with a cloth.


It probably won’t work, I thought as I went to sleep. But one can hope, right?

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Braiding Stories

One of this Friday's releases from Musa Publishing, Jack Gorman Got Cut By A Girl, is a "braided" anthology. Writing one poses its own special challenges and benefits. Before we go too far, let's pause for my definition: a "braided" antholofy is a group of interlocking stories with either a common event or character. Rashomon is a braided story. In Rashomon, four characters tell their version of a rape and murder. The stories are knit together by this common event.

In this case, the anthology title, Jack Gorman Got Cut By A Girl, tells you the common threads: Jack, and he's cut by a female in every story. With those very loose guidelines, and two additonal ones (Jack could not get laid, or be killed), the six writers went to work. Months later, Celina Summers, our editor and head Muse, sent us the first draft of the anthology. Celina had the unenvyable task of taking six very different visions (three contemporary stories with various levels of magic, a steam punk story, am alternate world fantasy story and a science fiction story), and come up with a plausable storyline. She is so amazing that she made this daunting task seem easy.

The next hurdle was making the "Jack" character consistent across six stories. This took several Skype chats.

But what did we do?

First, there were the small tweaks. Variations in Jack's physical description were voted on and standardized (subject to point of view issues)- an easy fix.  We also needed to make location or event references consistent. As an example, Heidi Berthiaume's story (Kzrma Coyotes), the second in the anthology, had Jack staggering out of a bar. In this round of edits, we substituted the name of the bar she'd used for the one in Goldeen Ogawa's story. We decided the type of beer Jack would buy. Several of the stories were adjusted for this. If Jack carried an item out of a story, that item had to be dealt with in the next or, if an item was needed in a story, we had to show the reader how Jack acquired the item in a previous story. Some of these tweaks were minor, some required new sections to ensure internal consistancy.

We also had to have the same method of moving Jack in to and out of the stories. This discussion required some help from Celina. Once we understood her rational for the story progression and vision of what was happening, this detail fell into place. Again, we all needed to add to our stories to incorporate this common element.

What I had the most fun doing, however, was standardizing Jack's many idiosyncrasies. We created a list of Jackisms (some of the sayings I've been Tweeting for the last week), and then needed to decide if our Jack would really say that. There was a lively discussion about whether Jack would say "piss" or "whiz." (FYI - We went with "piss.")  The merits of "silly boy" versus "sissy boy," and keeping the "g" in words ending with '-ing" were discussed.

In three stories, Jack quoted from movies or television shows. This quirk we wanted to keep, but there was a hitch. Sometimes Jack quoted the movie correctly, or mostly so - "Toto, I don't think we're in Kansas anymore" - and sometimes he butchered the quote - “Ooh, watch out, Toto. I think we’re in Narnia.” We decided that having Jack  misquote was funnier. So now, Jack references the "Ruby City" instead of the "Emerald City." Of course, once we made these decisions, some more rewriting was in order.

Small details like which profanity Jack would use bring the stories to life, but they also make the six very different tales a complete whole. This braided anthology borders on collaboration. The interweaving of the story elements made Jack Gorman a lot more work, but a lot stronger. And from a personal prospective more fun.  

I would definately participate in another braided anthology. If I could convince Celina to edit it, or any of my co-authors on Jack Gorman to write again, I'd be there before the sign-up sheet was posted.  I hope you enjoy reading about Jack's exploits as much as we did writing about them.


Jack Gorman would rather spend his time swilling brewskies, scoring with the babes, and watching football. Instead, he's been cursed by sword-bearing girl he harassed while on a bender.

Now, karma is dragging Jack's sorry ass across time, space, and alternate histories. The curse can be broken if Jack manages to learn his lesson, but Jack is nothing if not consistent. From small California towns to a steampunk past, a magical future, and a space odyssey of narcissistic proportions, Jack flirts and drinks his way across reality only to discover that girls with blades are everywhere.

Will Jack ever break the curse? Or is he doomed to an eternity of getting cut by girls? Regardless, Jack still can't get a break. As he learns the hard way, karma kicks ass in all timelines.

Jack Gorman Got Cut By A Girl

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Slacker Demons 1: It's Raining Men : Musa Publishing

You have to love a fantasy romance where it's literally raining men. Even better when those men are angels and demons and the women they are destined for are in the wrong place to catch them. I know I do. A definite addition to my reading list this summer.

Check out Jennifer Stevenson's new release from Musa Publishing .  . . . Slacker Demons 1: It's Raining Men : Musa Publishing

Archie is a sex demon who’s so lazy, he’s this close to being kicked out of hell. Chloe is a brand bimbo for a liquor distributor, dating bums and secretly crushing on her favorite bartender, Archie.

Archie only wants to comfort Chloe after her latest dumping. He doesn’t plan to show her the sex demons’ sweat-socky man lair, or confess to collecting thirty pieces of silver a month for seducing women. He doesn’t even intend to kiss her. It all starts with one well-meant lie…

“Just for you, it’s gonna start raining men.”

Funny and Fabulous Post about responding to Negative Reviews

Please check out this great post at Gossamer Obsessions about Responding to Negative Reviews.

While I'm not sure I'd recommend the potato chips and wine in the bathtub, it's a whole lot more productive and better for your career than ranting in public about or seeking revenue on the person who wrote the bad review.

The simple truth is that if you write and publish, you will get back reviews. The best thing to do is try to see if there's a grain of truth buried in the feedback, remember the negative review is just someone's opinion and not everyone will love what you write, and get back to writing.


Friday, July 13, 2012

New Release - Jack Gorman Got Cut By A Girl

So. we're a week away from the release of the Jack Gorman Got Cut By A Girl anthology. I've talked a little about how the Jack Gorman Project got started in my post about striking while the iron is hot. I'll post on Monday a bit more about the process of creating a braided mixed-genre anthology like Jack. But for tonight, I thought I'd give you a better idea about what the anthology's about.

Jack Gorman would rather spend his time swilling brewskies, scoring with the babes, and watching football. Instead, he's been cursed by sword-bearing girl he harassed while on a bender.
Now, karma is dragging Jack's sorry ass across time, space, and alternate histories. The curse can be broken if Jack manages to learn his lesson, but Jack is nothing if not consistent. From small California towns to a steampunk past, a magical future, and a space odyssey of narcissistic proportions, Jack flirts and drinks his way across reality only to discover that girls with
blades are everywhere.

Will Jack ever break the curse? Or is he doomed to an eternity of getting cut by girls? Regardless, Jack still can't get a break. As he learns the hard way, karma kicks ass in all timelines.


You're Jackism for today is: "Kick me in the balls, fine, I deserve that. But why did you have to cut me? Man. Whadda' fuck is wrong with you?"

Stay tuned for more about Jack Gorman Got Cut By A Girl including a Release Day Contest for a free copy.

Monday, July 9, 2012

The Terror of the Blank Screen

All right, it's 100 degrees for the like 100th day (okay, it just feels that way) here in Virginia. So, my brain cells are a bit fried. One hundred degree heat with a "feels like" temp of over 120 means it's even too hot to go to the pool for long. Ugh.

There are times when nothing is more intimidating than staring at the computer screen and knowing I have to get words onto it. It's not truly writer's block since I often know what I have to say, it's often more of an issue of finding the desire to start. Or, as in today's case, an issue of limiting the thoughts running through my head to form a coherent statement.

This weekend's writing to-do list included:

(1) Preparing applications for my new firm to be hired by the debtor in three bankruptcies;
(2) Preparing about 20 new client agreements with the new firm;
(3) Finishing a friend's novel and sending him back comments;
(4) Reading about 60 stories in my slush pile;
(5) Writing 5 essays for a grant applications;
(6) Preparing the regular blog post for this blog and three posts for other sites for Jack Gorman Got Cut By a Girl; and
(7) Write at least 1000 words on my WIP.

It being 100 degrees out meant I could delete my "outside chore" list without any guilt. But the above list was still pretty formidable. About half-way through the list and I hit the "wall." The computer became my enemy. I wanted to go out, but it was too hot. I prowled the living room. Poked into the kitchen looking for something, but not knowing what. Time to try something else.

So, in trying to break through and focus so I could hunker down and finish another section of my list, I turned to James Scott Bell's The Art of War for Writers, as always Bell's little book didn't let me down - Entry 13 - A writer must always be prepared to break through the "wall."

Bell advises against "scotching" it. He uses "scotch" to mean either (1) give it up, or (2) drink it to oblivion. Instead here are some methods (some his and some mine) for getting past the "wall" or the terror of the blank screen:

(1) Write anything
Sometimes the idea of writing X (whether its an appellate brief or a short story) is more than I can bear. Fine. Give heed to that emotion. I hit a point where I'd rather rot than write another word on a particular project. This is not a productive state of mind. Instead of trying to power through and write another essay earlier, I put it aside and drafted another representation letter, a mostly rote process. Having taken a break from the "bad" writing, I was able to clear my head and get back to it.

(2) Write a rant.
A week or so ago I had to write an opposition to another party's request for payment. For reasons I can't go into here, the mere concept that this person had the nerve to ask for money enraged me. Because I had too much emotion tied up in what I needed to write, I couldn't write it. Finally, I gave into the emotion. I spent an hour writing what I thought about the request without censoring. The one page rebuttal violated every rule of civility the courts and legal community impose. But, damn it felt good. Having cleared the emotion out, I could then write what I needed to for my client.

(3) Exercise.
When the weather allows, taking a walk through the woods behind my house is a great way to clear my head. My phone has Dragon Dictation on it so if brilliance strikes, I can still capture it. But getting out of the chair and moving my body does seem to help me hurdle the wall when I resume the seat.

(4) Randomize.
This is a James Scott Bell suggestion that I've yet to try, but am intrigued by. Bell suggests taking a book at random, opening to a random page, and typing the first complete sentence on the left side of that novel into your story. The "borrowed" sentence starts your next scene. Once you finish the scene go back, delete the "borrowed" sentence and substitute your own.

(5) "Behold, _________" it.
This one just makes me laugh. Bell notes that when Ray Bradbury was stuck and facing a deadline for the screenplay version of Moby Dick, Bradbury woke up one morning, looked at himself in the mirror and said, "Behold, Herman Melville!" He then finished the script.
Bell suggests taking an author in the genre you are writing, look in the mirror and then say, "Behold. __________!" Then sit down and write.

So, I'm off to write more for my WIP, The Nocebo Effect.

"Behold, J.D. Robb!"

I feel better already.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Jack Gorman Got Cut by A Girl

In advance of the July 20, 2012 release of Jack Gorman Got Cut By A Girl from Musa Publishing, I'm giving you a sneak peak at the anthology.

Poor Jack makes an unfortunate drunken choice and karma decides to take an active hand in helping him learn the error of his ways. The origins of the anthology are unique, and I've blogged about them before. Check out that post here if you missed it. Another unique feature of this anthology is how the six stories braid together. The "trigger" for all the stories starts in the first one. Each story builds on the ones that came before. Jack's experiences, the items he picks up, and the injuries he acquires follow him through the stories as well.

I'm also going to start tweeting some of my favorite lines from the anthology under the hash tag #cutbyagirl.

The Jackism for today is: "Ooh, watch out, Toto. I think we’re in Narnia.”

Coming July 20, 2012 from Musa, Jack Gorman Got Cut By A Girl - Karma is a bitch, and Jack Gorman is about to find out how much.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Work in Progress Update - June 2012 roundup

So, after a weekend without power for many in my area and a shift in the day job, I'm finally getting a chance to catch-up.

Being an unemployed (sort of) lawyer is an interesting thing. My old firm of nearly 5 years chose to break apart for, effectively, irreconcilable differences. I opted to join another firm rather than stay with one of the new firms rising from the ashes of the old. Before making that decision, I contemplated going solo. One of the many weird things about being a lawyer, is if you have clients you really are never "out of work." When my new firm asked me if I planned to take a few days off between the companies, I laughed. I was leaving the old firm on Friday, and had court set for Monday. So, no, no time off.

The shifting of my day job means I haven't done any substantial new writing for the last 4 weeks. Not even my lousy 250 words a day. Grr.

The Jack Gorman anthology comes out on July 20 and it's consumed the little writing time I've been able to scrape up. We were sent a draft cover for the anthology, and our first rounds of edits. All those are in.

The other projects are stalled. My erotic novella New Bohemia, Just One Night awaits editing. The Noebco Effect, which is a novel with Vonna from Flashes of Life in the Paths Less Traveled short story collection sits at about 20,000 words. I also need to get beta comments back to another writer on his novel.

Still, things could be a lot worse.

Last month saw my first royalty payment and two short story collections in print.

For July, my plan is to:
(1) revamp my law practice to match my new firm's mode of operation,
(2) get feedback to the other writer;
(3) edit New Bohemia; and
(4) write another 30,000 words in Flashes of Life.

Sure, I can do that. Stay tuned and watch me.