Tag Archives: Guest Post

Practical Advice for Beginning Fiction Writers

Award-Winning, Amazon Top 100 Author George Bernstein shares with us…

George Bernstein Photo

First, don’t do it, if that’s how you plan on making a living. Sure, we all hear about the fabulous successes of the J.K. Rowlings and John Greshams, but what you don’t hear is how long they struggled to even get published, and that people who make real money writing fiction are about .01% of all the writers out there. That’s 1/100th of ONE PER CENT! One in 10,000.

Second, if you’re still intent on being a writer and getting published by a REAL publisher, you’d better have a thick skin and be able to accept rejection… after rejection… after rejection! You may NEVER find an agent or publisher for your work. Louis L’Amore, probably America’s most prolific writer of Westerns, was reputedly rejected 350 times before getting his first story published. Even getting an agent is no guarantee of being published. I know of agents who have shop manuscripts they love for years and never find a buyer.

So, unless you’re writing for the joy of it… that you really want to get that story down on paper, no matter what… then find some better use for your time.

But if in the face of all that, you still want to write that novel, then here’s some advice.

First, pick up a couple of books on fiction writing. Donald Maass’ “Writing the Breakout Novel,” and Albert Zuckerman’s “Writing the Blockbuster Novel,” are two of a legion of titles available. Zuckerman’s book gives you a complete roadmap, from beginning to end. You can search Amazon or www.ABE.com (good, like-new used books, cheaper) or the library. While you’re at it, you should pick up Dave King’s “Self-Editing for Fiction Writers,” which you’ll need later. Read those first, to get you on the right track.

Now, imagine the story you want to write, think of where it’s going and the characters who are going to take it there…and how you want it to end. I usually start with the end result I’m seeking and work backwards. But be prepared for that to change as you begin writing. More about that later.

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Chandleresque

Guest Post by Joel D Canfield, Author of A Long Hard Look

A style so strong your name becomes an adjective: Chandleresque.

It means, clearly, “like Chandler.”

Author Photo Joel CanfieldWhat that means is, perhaps, less obvious, unless we go with “I know it when I see it” which is, for a writer, ultimately, unsatisfying.

Because I call my mysteries “Chandleresque cozies” I feel obligated to define my terms. Others have done so more completely, probably more correctly; others of greater literary stature than I.

Tough. I’m the only one here right now, so I get to make the calls.

In his introduction to Trouble is My Business, he epitomized my feelings about his style (and, I flatter myself, mine) saying, “The ideal mystery was one you would read if the end was missing.”

Most traditional mysteries would be much less satisfying without the denouement, the moment when the sleuth reveals all to the characters gathered in the drawing room. We’ve been watching for clues, trimming red herrings, keeping track of this, that, and the other thing, and seeing the devilishy clever circumstances of the crime revealed by an even more clever hero is, in the end, the main point of the mysteries our favorite authors write.

Can you imagine Poirot shrugging and admitting he hadn’t a clue? Picture Kinsey Millhone deciding it didn’t matter and going home for a peanut-butter and pickle sandwich. Inconceivable that Nero Wolfe would admit defeat — or that Archie Goodwin would tolerate it. Their bravery and problem-solving prowess is the reason we read Christie, Grafton, and Stout.

Written in 1939, this was Chandler’s first Philip Marlowe novel

But Chandler? I don’t care whodunnit. In some cases, I don’t even know whodunnit. The famous example is the chauffer in The Big Sleep. Nobody, not even Chandler, knows how he ended up washing in the surf inside a Packard off Lido Pier.

Because it doesn’t matter.

What matters is that Marlowe becomes convinced there’s a deeper darker game than simply finding Shawn Regan. And someone is prepared to kill more than once (or more than one someone is prepared to do it) in self-interest, self-preservation.

People, not puzzles.

The city. Los Angeles. He hated it. He loved it. As he loved and hated the people. Everyone was flawed. Marlowe was no saint. Cops were sometimes kind, sometimes nefarious. Les femmes fatales were not always fatal, were sometimes even innocent victims.

Good versus bad. Wrong or right. That’s the stuff of most crime and mystery writing.

Not Chandler. Sure, Philip Marlowe is staunchly ethical, even when he’s breaking the law. His sense of justice, of right, is unimpeachable. Marlowe’s morality, though, is a given.

We’re not here for givens. Nobody lines up at the coffee shop because they can pour a cup of joe without spilling. But if their espresso is a shot of roasted creamy heaven, word gets around.

That paradox, the sweet cream taste made from darkly bitter beans; that’s where Chandler rises to the top. His characters are real people. Sure, they have flaws. They make stupid choices. They make intentionally bad, mean, hurtful choices.

They also die for someone they love. They suffer ignominy rather than betray a confidence.


They love deeply, maniacally, redeemingly.

And his plots. Called by one reviewer “rambling at best and incoherent at worst” they are, no argument from me, convoluted. Corkscrews jammed in a vice. Keep track of who did what with whom, and where and when, in any of his books. I never even bother.

Because, once again, that’s not why I took this ride.

In The Long Goodbye, Terry Lennox is the poster child for redemption. Beaten down by everyone including himself, when he’s pushed past his limit, he doesn’t fold, he soars. Revives himself, reinvents himself, redeems himself. And at the same time kicks the pins from under those who hurt him most.

When I read a work of fiction and then aspire to become more like some imaginary character, any information pertaining to Colonel Mustard, the lead pipe, and the conservatory is not only meaningless, but positively superfluous.

Death is not some worthy goal. We spend our lives living in defiance of that mortal-coil off-shuffling. It’s the living we crave, not the ending of it.

A life worth living would be worth living whether or not it had an ending.

That’s Chandleresque: a mystery you’d read even if the end was missing.

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Joel D Canfield writes Chandleresque cozies. Read about ’em at http://JoelDCanfield.com/my-books/

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Mistakes Authors Make When Querying Agents & Publishers

Guest Post by Andrea Hurst (Author and Literary Agent)

Author Andrea Hurst Photo

Her published books include Always With You, The Guestbook, The Lasy Dog’s Guide to Enlightenment and Everybody’s Natural Food Cookbook, and she co-authored A Book of Miracles.

Squeezing an entire manuscript into a 250 word query letter is a challenge for writers when seeking an agent. No perfect form exists for query letters, but there are common mistakes every aspiring author should avoid. These are five of the most prevalent:

1) Failing to Address the Agent

A mistake that has most agents deleting your query before they read it is, rather simply, failing to address the query to a specific agent. This occurs at an alarming rate and can blow a hole in your dream of becoming an author. Agents understand and encourage writers to submit a query to several agents—just, not in the same email. Each agent should receive an individual, personalized query. The email should not have ten, five, or even two recipients, just one. It should also be addressed:

Dear First Name Last Name (both spelled correctly!),

Do not address the query to “Dear Agent”. If you want to show an agent you’ve done your research, then adjust the letter to him/her. Tell the agent why you are querying them specifically. Doing the research may take some time, but it is worth the effort.  Continue reading

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