Eric Hoffer finalist

I received this e-mail this morning. I’m sure you can hear my YIPEE wherever you are.

Dear Hoffer Award Entrant:

Congratulations. Your story has been selected as a finalist for the Eric Hoffer Prose Award. This is a very small group of stories from among thousands of submissions. The final round of judging will unfold during the spring, culminating with the announcement of the Hoffer Short List during late summer and the release of the winners in early fall. . .

I had forgotten about this contest. I submitted my story GOOD GAME in May, 2009, to be considered for the Hoffer Award and then received the following e-mail in July of 2009.

The editors would like to inform you that your story has passed the first round of editorial review. Less than 20% of the stories make it this far. Congratulations. The review process is long and thorough. By the end, we will have an entire year’s worth of selected submissions to consider for the prize and anthology. You will hear back from us between May and July about the next level of judging. . .

I had thought I was out of the running. I assumed that because I wasn’t notified last July that the story didn’t make the final cut. Fortunately GOOD GAME has not been accepted elsewhere. I think it is my best work to date and I am honored to be in the final cut. But, even though the story is a finalist for the Eric Hoffer Award, it has been rejected by 18 different magazines.

To quote JA Konrath, “There’s a word for a writer who never gives up…published.”

It is sometimes difficult to keep writing and submitting without getting discouraged, but days like today give me the steam to keep rolling. It also substantiates my decision to resign from my day job. After four years of developing tests for Measurement Inc., Tuesday is my last day. I realized that developing tests was draining my energy and keeping me from my fiction writing. I have had a new novel in progress for more than a year–it is not even half finished. I have a sketchy draft finished and several random chapters filled in, but I sometimes go for more than a month without working on my fiction. I had to make a change. I will still work as a contractor for MI, but I can set my own hours, can work from home, and the biggie: I won’t have to travel.

Okay, back to laying out pages for Pig in a Poke. I have about half of them done. We’re set to go live on May 1. So exciting!

More on the creation of GOOD GAME:

In August, 2008 I wrote the GOOD GAME during a severe drought . From a former blog: “Good Game” is the story that I’m most proud of. It is about a chess player who is paralyzed and sinking into depression, who is visited by his dead father. I wrote the first draft in my spare time before and after work, and on the weekend. Originally, it was to be a piece about a woman with a personality disorder who suffered from drug dependence. This is completely different from the end result. One afternoon while doing chores around the house, I decided she should be paralyzed. I decided to change the gender of the main character to a man to reach the readers who play chess, predominately men, as previously posted.

R.I.P. Michael Crichton

The bestsellling author died unexpectedly in Los Angeles Tuesday, after a courageous and private battle against cancer. He was 66. This news saddens me even more than it might have, following the excitement of the presidential election.

Called “the father of the techno-thriller,” Michael Crichton helped to build my thirst for thrillers. From THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN, to JURASSIC PARK to NEXT, I have been under his spell. I showed THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN movie every year to my science classes. I watched every early episode of ER, drinking in the medical drama. ER was the first of its type and spawned many other such drama’s.

CBS News reports:
“While the world knew him as a great story teller that challenged our preconceived notions about the world around us — and entertained us all while doing so — his wife Sherri, daughter Taylor, family and friends knew Michael Crichton as a devoted husband, loving father and generous friend who inspired each of us to strive to see the wonders of our world through new eyes,” the statement said. “He did this with a wry sense of humor that those who were privileged to know him personally will never forget.”

Through his books, Crichton served as an inspiration to students of all ages, challenged scientists in many fields, and illuminated the mysteries of the world in a way all could understand.

“He will be profoundly missed by those whose lives he touched, but he leaves behind the greatest gifts of a thirst for knowledge, the desire to understand, and the wisdom to use our minds to better our world.”

JA Konrath

I am honored that JA (Joe) Konrath has linked WORLDS THAT NEVER WERE to his blog: A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing. There he posts interesting and useful information for fellow writers. Althought the title suggests it is for newbies, I think there is something there for both new and experienced writers. His latest post, Casting Your Net, is about how to take advantage of Internet relationships formed from social networking through blogs, websites and billboards. I learn something every time I read A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing and am happy to be included in the blogs Konrath reads.

As previously posted, I also love Konrath’s books. In terms of humor, JA Konrath is the king. I discovered his detective series with star Lt. Jack (Jacqueline) Daniels after reading one of his short stories in a thriller anthology edited by James Patterson. I bought WHISKY SOUR, read it, and then bought the next three books. I laughed my way through all four books, one right after another. I didn’t want to stop to sleep, eat or work. Konrath’s is the only series I read straight through like that. He doesn’t skimp on the details. One killer drove nails into the bones of his victims, one peeled off the victim’s skin, all while the victims were alive. One scene that sticks in my memory is when one of the killers put razor blades into candy bars. The resulting scene after a detective bit into the razor blade was both graphic and humorous. The humor lightens the story and works with the graphic scenes in this series. I’ve just read his latest, FUZZY NAVEL and can’t wait for the next one.

It is obvious that I learn from Konrath’s blog by the number of my posts where I’ve quoted him:
A Good Thrill
Stories Aren’t Buckshot
Write. Edit. Polish–Submit

In other news, I have only 25 pages left to edit in my young adult novel–as yet unnamed. It was to be titled KATHARINE TAYLOR AND THE MAGIC QUILT, but I didn’t want it to sound so Harry Potterish, so I was going to call it HIGH TREASON. Harry doesn’t think that is a fun title for young adults, so I’m thinking about it. Whatever it is titled, I should finish this week! I intend to celebrate most heartily. Tip a glass of wine, beer–or whatever you are imbibing–for me.

A good thrill

After last posting that I like to read, I thought I’d dedicate this post to my favorite writers. During my teenage years, I read romances and watched soaps. Eventually, I grew bored. Real life is not the happily ever after of romances, and I wanted more from the books I read. I discovered horror: Stephen King, and werewolf and vampire stories. I began to enjoy the excitement of a good scare. I also began collecting the works of Lawrence Sanders, Grisham and Crichton. After watching SILENCE OF THE LAMBS I realized that I liked psychological thrillers. I read the Hannibal series by Thomas Harris. Harris did such a good job developing Hannibal’s character that I found myself being repulsed and empathizing with Hannibal at the same time and wanting more. And so began my relationship with fictional serial killers and their catchers.

I also stumbled upon the genre of medical thrillers, thanks to Michael Palmer. The combination of medicine, science and suspense makes an awesome read. Looking for more medical thrillers, I discovered Tess Gerritsen. Gerritsen is one of my favorite authors because of the rich characters she creates, normal and flawed people who are interesting because of it. She writes from the point of view of killer, detective and medical examiner equally well. I especially like medical examiner Maura Isles’ character because she must deal with death on a daily basis, and yet is likable as a woman with insecurities like the rest of us. What I most like about Gerritsen is that she fully develops the autopsy scenes to give the reader medical details not found in any other thrillers I’ve read except for the work of Kathy Reichs.

Reichs’s series is fascinating in its detail. How Tempe Brennan can discover the age or race of a skeleton and more from just bones. Tempe’s character is also fully developed. Reichs does not, however, write from the killer’s point of view. Her pov character is always Tempe. But it works for the series. Reichs also uses humor to lighten up the heavy topics Tempe deals with, which makes an entertaining read. I like BONES, the TV series loosely based on Reich’s books. I say loosely because Television Tempe is completely different from the alcoholic divorcée with a twenty something daughter from the books.

In terms of humor, JA Konrath is the king. I discovered his detective series with star Jack (Jacqueline) Daniels after reading one of his short stories in a thriller anthology edited by James Patterson. I bought WHISKY SOUR, read it, and then bought the next three books. I laughed my way through all four books, one right after another. I didn’t want to stop to sleep, eat or work. Konrath’s is the only series I read straight through like that. He doesn’t skimp on the details. One killer drove nails into the bones of his victims, one peeled off the victim’s skin, all while the victims were alive. One scene that sticks in my memory is when one of the killers put razor blades into candy bars. The resulting scene after a detective bit into the razor blade was both graphic and humorous. The humor lightens the story and works with the graphic scenes in this series. I’ve preordered the fifth Jack Daniel’s book and can’t wait to read it.

Lucas Davenport is my favorite detective. I love John Sanford’s PREY series. In the introduction to RULES OF PREY Sanford said, “Cops don’t act like Lucas Davenport–they’d be fired or even imprisoned if they did. They aren’t rich, they don’t drive Porches, most could give a rat’s ass about fashion. Lucas Davenport does all of that. … he’s a cross between a cop and a movie star. I wanted him to be a star. I wanted him to be different. I wanted him to be a mean, tough cop that women liked.” Sanford succeeded. Davenport is a star. He’s gruff, mean and yet he’s likeable and sexy. But more importantly, John Sanford’s writing is stellar. I’d rank him with literary writers. He is a former Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, and it shows in his writing. He also draws from his experiences as a newspaper reporter, the dead bodies and crime scenes he witnessed ground his novels in reality.

I like David Baldacci for the same reason, the way he can string words together. I am in awe when I read his novels. His recent works are political thrillers that are well researched, interesting and powerful. His latest, THE WHOLE TRUTH, explored one possible scenario for the return of the cold war.

I would be remiss not to mention James Patterson. I like detective doctor Alex Cross almost as much as Lucas Davenport. The African-American psychologist detective raising several children alone in DC makes for great reading. The Cross novels are page turners. Patterson’s works may lack the depth of Gerritsen and Sanford, but I can always count on him for a good thrill.

I have only mentioned some of my favorites writers. There are many others, like Diane Chamberlain, who does a fantastic job writing about the interrelationships between people. I am happy to have such a vast selection of great literature to choose from.

Here’s to summer reading and staying cool. Temps should reach the triple digits in Raleigh this afternoon. I can’t think of a better way to spend the afternoon than sitting in the air conditioning with a good book.

Stories aren’t buckshot

Don’t shoot. The shotgun approach to story submission is not effective. A few days after posting about living with rejection, I ran across JA Konrath’s post about using short stories to promote novels–I am enjoying Konrath’s humorous thriller series featuring Jack Daniel’s, a female detective. I discovered his novels after reading one of his stories in the Thriller anthology edited by James Patterson.

Unlike Konrath, I am not trying to promote a book with my stories, I have yet to finish my YA novel, but I think Konrath’s advice is good for anyone trying to get short fiction published.


Would you spend hours making a key without having a lock it can open? No. But many authors write whatever the hell they want to write and then erroneously believe there will be a market begging to publish it. That usually isn’t the case.

Magazines, anthologies, and websites all have specific demographics. They want specific stories to please these demographics. It’s much easier to write for a market than write according to your whim and then try to find a market that will buy it.

When you have found a market, read it. Don’t guess what you think the editors will like. Discover what the editors like by reading stories they’ve already published.

Also, it makes good sense to write stories about the characters who are in your novels. The closer the tie in, the more likely you are to sell a book if someone likes the story.

Got it? Good. And if it stifles your muse, remind yourself that writing is a job.

This is the best advice I’ve read lately. I had been writing stories about whatever I wanted and then hoping to find markets for them. This sometimes works, but it is a struggle to find just the right match. Hence, the 136 rejection letters.

Konrath also listed the pros and cons of various markets including: magazines, anthologies, limited editions, and new markets. I found this very helpful. I had not before considered, for example, that the majority of readers I may reach with magazines will only read my work during the month the magazine is fresh, whereas anthologies may stay in print for years and the Internet is eternal.

I’ll be taking a break from writing and submitting to visit my Mom in Missouri this weekend. I can’t wait.

Tess Gerritsen: Mistress of Suspense

“The career of chart-topping mystery novelist takes a new twist with her first historical murder mystery,” says Jordan E. Rosenfeld of Writers Digest.

Tess Gerritsen has become my favorite author over the past few years, so I read the interview in Writers Digest with rapt attention. It is not just the way she weaves suspense that pulls me into her books, it is also her well developed characters. They have problems and hang ups like the people that I know (including me), but they are also complex.

Gerritsen touched on character development when asked this question:
Besides reading a lot of them? When you write any book you have to pay attention to your emotions. What makes a really salable book that people grab onto is one that tells a story that causes you to feel something. That’s what I base my ideas on. Does the premise evoke some really strong emotion in me? Intellectual mysteries are interesting but it has to have something that moves you. I find action on the page very boring. If I read about a car chase, it’s ho-hum for me. What gets me on the edge of my seat is an interrogation, in which you know the answer is around the corner and it’s just two people talking in a room. New writers don’t understand tension or suspense—they think it’s about gunplay.

Writing is a matter of trusting your heart and gut more than logic, because people aren’t logical. Characters should do crazy things because that’s real life and I think that’s what we should write about.

This interview inspired me not only to keep reading Gerritsen, but also to use her as an example to improve my own writing. Gerritsen has the same problem that I do, not wanting to stick with a book. Unlike me, however, she overcomes and finishes her books.

I don’t plot my books ahead of time. Like a lot of writers, I’m a plunger rather than a planner. I have an idea but somewhere in the middle I start to feel I’ve lost my way for the trees. Every single book has given me trouble and made me depressed because two-thirds of the way through, I think it’s a total disaster. There’s nothing wrong with that as long as you stick with it. But it means that your second and third drafts will be pure drudgery.

I remembered reading something similar that Gerritsen had said in a previous interview, so I did a Google search and found this on Writers Write:

What was the greatest challenge in writing that first book?

Maintaining the drive to finish it. It’s a terrible temptation to give up on a book and start something new. Over the years, I’ve learned to persist through thick and thin, even when the book is not going well. Only after you’ve written “the end” can you truly evaluate whether you’ve been writing drivel or a masterpiece.

So, I am going to use Gerritsen as my motivator. I have resolved to finish my YA novel in progress. I want to write “the end.”

Writing for children and young adults

My writing is diverse, which is another way of saying that I’ll write anything. My strength seems to be writing for and about children, although my heart is in psychological and medical thrillers for adults, simply because I love reading them so much. Give me a day with Tess Gerritsen, James Patterson, David Baldacci or Diane Chamberlain, and I’m a happy woman. I am currently reading the Kathy Reichs series that the TV show Bones is based on.

I digress. In combination with working on my young adult novel, I’ve been writing short stories for adults just to be able to have the satisfaction of completing a shorter term piece while finishing the novel. After reading two of my stories, one of the women in my writing critique group noticed that in both Remission, my first attempt at a medical story, and Mulberry Tree, which parallel’s a teacher’s personal and professional helplessness, that my writing was strongest in the scenes involving children. This gives me pause. Should I be concentrating my writing for children.

While I am pleased with my recent progress on my young adult novel THE MAGIC QUILT, I really wanted my next book to be an thriller for adults. I’ve enjoyed researching 1775 Boston, the setting for the later half of the YA novel. It has been fun writing about the world of colonial America. But writing for children requires a different mind set than writing for adults. In writing from the view point of a twelve year old, vocabulary, parents and the young psyche have to be considered. Yet, it seems that is where my strength lies.

I have had the most success in publishing educational articles, not fiction, which again, gives me further pause. I am passionate about educating and advocating for children and it comes through in my writing. This is a good place for a shameless plug.

What tools should teachers carry in their survival kits?
Find out in my article Methods for success as a middle school science teacher, that has just published in the September issue of Science Scope Magazine. Unfortunately, if you’re not a member of NSTA, you won’t be able to read the article Online.

As an aside:
There has been a long drought here in North Carolina and we’ve broken some records for high temperatures over the last couple of weeks. As a respite from the heat, I’ve had the opportunity to sip chilled white wine, courtesy of my husband, who writes a monthly wine column Ten Dollar Tastings with Harry Calhoun. Kumkani wine has just sent him a half case of wine to taste, and I’m looking forward to contributing my insights.